Former Fighterís Toughest Battle was his Bout with Bulimia
24.09.06 - By KIRK LANG: Peter Joseph Alindato was a promising contender in the early 1980s. He was a frequent face on ESPN and had a boyish smile that belied his killer instinct in the ring. Great things were expected of the bantamweight with the flying fists. In the prime of his career, he was trained by Tommy Parks and Oscar Suarez and later spent time training at legendary manger Cus DíAmatoís training facility in Catskill, New York, where a young Mike Tyson was transformed from a raw young teenager into a world-class fighter.
Article posted on 25.09.2006
Alindato, however, never lived up to his potential. He never achieved his dream of becoming a champion. What the viewers who saw him on television never knew, and what his trainers didnít even know for years, was that Alindato, also known as the Durango Kid, was battling a far more dangerous opponent than any man he ever met in the ring Ė bulimia.
Bulimia is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications and fasting.
Alindato did everything to keep his weight down but most often put his finger down his throat to make himself throw up.
"There were times I would binge and purge as much as 20 times in one day, said Alindato, who, looking back, realizes he had a very serious problem. It is not only female gymnasts who are pressured to stay thin. Alindato was a boxer and he felt the pressure. As an amateur fighter in Puerto Rico, Alindato, while on the Pan-American team, had a trainer that weighed him and others multiple times a day, from before the morning run to after dinner. Alindato, who loved to eat, was always struggling to make weight. He tried running in plastic sweat suits and spent a lot of time in the sauna and on the toilet. The pounds werenít coming off fast enough.
"I was trying to find a solution to this problem," said Alindato. "One day, I ate more than I was supposed to and I knew they were going to check my weight again.
"I came up with the index finger and forced myself to throw up. When they checked my weight I was a half pound less than before." Alindato said bulimia became his "new best friend." Little did he know then it would destroy his future pro career. Many great fighters, like Riddick Bowe, James Toney and countless others, have struggled with the scale, trying to lose too much weight too fast. It is unclear how many boxers do what Alindato did to lose weight because no one admits to it. Durango Kid believes there may be many others like him.
Alindato "binged and purged" to stay at as low a weight as possible, believing it would provide an advantage. He also welcomed a challenge. Before Alindato turned pro, he blew up to 127 pounds. His trainer told him he didnít think he could make 118 pounds. Needless to say, Alindato spent most of his career at 118 pounds. He admitted he was also afraid to move up to 122, in the event he would eventually have to fight junior featherweight champion Wilfredo Gomez.
"I didnít want to fight that freaking monster," said Alindato. "He was knocking everybody out. Thatís when I turned toward bulimia again." Staying at bantamweight proved not to be an advantage. When Alindato was fighting, unlike today, fighters had to weigh in the same day of the fight and Alindatoís bulimia problem often left him feeling dehydrated in the ring. There were fights where heíd knock guys down but didnít have the strength to finish them off.
"I was very tired sometimes but I kept on pushing myself," said Alindato. Early in his career, he fought Wilfredo Vazquez, who would go on to win world titles in three weight divisions.
"When Peter fought Vazquez in Puerto Rico," said Suarez, "Peter had him beat. He had him all cut up." But Vazquez registered a sixth-round stoppage. "After the fifth round, my vision was gone. I couldnít see anything. I saw only shadows," said Alindato. Blurry vision and dizzy spells were a common theme in many fights, problems he attributes to bulimia, because even today, at 41, he has 20/20 vision. Dr. Michael Schwartz, chief ringside physician for the boxing matches at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, said bulimia could definitely have a dramatic effect on a fighterís performance.
"When you vomit, not only are you putting an enormous amount of stress on the esophagus, which can cause tearing, but you tend to upset the acid base status of your body," said Schwartz.
"Your body likes to stay at a certain PH (acid base). When you vomit, you lose acid. This upsets the homeostasis of the body. Schwartz said dehydrating oneself and vomiting not only puts one at risk of rupturing the food pipe but also "changes the PH status of your body."
He added "the muscles, the heart, even the brain, are regulated by fluids and the PH status, so by dehydrating, youíre affecting the function of every single organ in the body."
These guys could get "permanently injured or even killed," said Schwartz, chairman of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians. Schwartz thinks there should be mandatory weigh-ins for fighters weeks before a fight so theyíre not rushing to drop pounds in the couple days before a fight or even the day of the fight. Sometimes fighters come in overweight at the official weigh-in and are then given a short amount of time to make their contracted weight.
"There should be a three-percent rule so theyíre not forced to dehydrate in two hours," said Schwartz. In other words, a boxer in the junior lightweight division (130) could weigh in at 133.9 pounds but no higher. Schwartz believes fighters have to stop risking their health fighting in the "wrong weight class."
Nobody could tell Alindato he was in the wrong weight class. To him, making a weight that was a challenge was one thing he could control, the one thing he had power over. "When I was 8, I lost control," said Alindato, referring to a day when two grown men with machetes approached him by a riverbank in Puerto Rico and led him to another area and proceeded to rape him. "Somebody stole my innocence that day. I had no control over what happened to me. Bulimia made me feel in control of something in my life." For decades, Alindato kept the rape a secret from his family. The men who raped him told him they would kill his family if he said anything. He kept that horrible incident bottled up inside just like he kept his battle with bulimia a secret for most of his professional career. His trainers never caught on that Alindato was binging and purging. Suarez, who said Alindato loved sweets, especially ice cream, would notice him spending a decent amount of time in the bathroom the day of a fight.
"I just thought it was nerves," he said. He did however, find it strange that Alindato could eat so much and still make weight. Suarez, who has trained Omar Sheika and Prince Naseem Hamed, among others, said if Alindato "didnít have that illness, he probably would have been the best fighter [around 122-126 pounds] of his time."
Former light heavyweight champion Jose Torres (a DíAmato disciple), who brought Alindato up to DíAmatoís training grounds to learn from Teddy Atlas, said Alindato hid his bulimia from him. He wasnít surprised when Alindato finally admitted what he had been doing.
"If fighters can make a lower weight, they feel they have an advantage. They think if they go up a weight division, theyíll be inferior at that weight," said Torres. Thatís what Alindato thought. But he found out his so-called best friend named bulimia was actually "an invisible monster inside my head."
"People who are bulimic and anorexic are compulsive about working out," said Alindato. "Thatís why probably a lot of times I overtrained working out so hard." It wasnít until the birth of his children that Alindato was able to beat the disease. Crushed after losing a 12-round to Kenny Mitchell for the New York State Bantamweight title at Madison Square Garden that he and Torres felt he deserved to win, Alindato contemplated suicide. But two months later, his son was born. "Thatís what saved me," said Alindato. "It was the greatest day of my life. It was like renaissance to me. It gave me a reason to stay alive. I said, "I canít commit suicide. My son needs me.í "
From that point on, he wanted to concentrate on being a good father rather than a boxer, so his fights became less frequent. But a few years after the birth of his second son, Alindato took a 1988 loss to Ricardo Cepeda at the Felt Forum in New York City pretty bad. He was at the Ramada Inn after the fight and was debating whether to jump out the window.
"I had two boys and stepdaughter and I was raising them by myself," Alindato. "Wherever this voice came from, it was speaking in my head. It said, ĎIf you donít stop doing this, youíre going to die and not going to see your children become men.í It must have been God himself or an angel from God." Eventually, after a few more fights, Alindato got it through his head that he had to hang up the gloves.
"I had to make a choice, try to be a fighter or be a full-time father. I had to be there for my kids," he said. Having made the right decision, his nearly decade-long bout with bulimia came to an end. He admits he was lucky he never got seriously injured the way he entered the ring so many times. Now that he can finally talk about his battle with bulimia, Alindato hopes he can help other fighters who may be doing what he did. Anyone that would like to speak to Alindato can call him at 1-518-446-1472 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I know I canít be the only one," said Alindato. "I want to give them advice about what bulimia can do to you. Itís not your friend. Itís your enemy. It ruined my dream and ruined my career."
Alindato said if anyone were to make a movie of his life, heís already got the title in mind - Shattered Dreams.
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