Boxers and bags just go together. There’s the heavy bag to test power, the speed bag to test quickness, and the ostomy bag to test courage.
Wait... ostomy bag?
That’s right. A boxer with an ostomy. It seems like an impossible combination to most, but with a dream and unstoppable determination, Michael Valentin has made it his reality. He’s a professional lightweight champion from Providence, Rhode Island with a 6-0 (1 KO) record who goes by the nickname "Bling Bling."
In some ways, those fights pale in comparison to what he has overcome out of the ring. Michael was born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a rare condition that occurs in about 1 out of 5,000 live births as a result of missing nerve cells in the muscles of the colon. For most babies, surgery is needed to bypass the affected part or remove the colon entirely.
Michael had colostomy surgery when he was just a few days old and spent the first six months of his life in the hospital. At four years old, a reversal procedure was performed but six years later he needed a colostomy again and has had it ever since. By the age of ten, Michael had undergone eleven operations. Now 20, that total has climbed to twenty-two, including having his gall bladder and appendix removed.
Everybody poops, but it’s not easy growing up with a medical condition that involves the inability to control your bowels. Michael said that he had to use diapers from ages 4-10 because of fecal incontinence, and sadly but not surprisingly, was a target of bullying. The difficulties he faced growing up are why the story of Seven Bridges, a young boy who committed suicide after being bullied, affected him so much. Michael reached out to Seven’s mother and even dedicated a fight in his honor, writing "Seven" on his trunks.
“It sucked growing up. Being bullied. So I turned it into positivity.” – Michael Valentin
Underneath the hateful words and simmering below the “Bling Bling” hype, there’s something fiercely personal at stake. Last February, following one of his victories, Michael stood in the ring and celebrated his win by delivering an impassioned speech. “I know it’s going to hurt me, but all my life I dealt with adversity,” he said, taking a moment to compose himself. “I always fought with a colostomy bag. For anybody that thinks I’m lying, look at me now, I got a colostomy.” Then he pulled down his trunks and revealed it to the crowd. A gesture that was meant to inspire others to overcome their own obstacles in life.
Boxing commentator Xavier Porter said it best: “That's more than a role model. That's a hero.”
So what did he get for it?
Michael Valentin was put on indefinite suspension by the Rhode Island Atheltic Commission.
It was a knee-jerk reaction to something they didn’t understand, despite having already fought in 42 amateur fights and prior knowledge of his medical history. It could’ve meant the end of a dream that started for Michael when he was fourteen. “I sacrificed everything,” he said to reporter Pattee Mak on YouTube. “Gave up school to follow my dreams in boxing. Now they want to stop it. Only due to a colostomy bag.”
But quit? No, he never talks about quitting. Instead, Michael made it a creed. “All I want to do is prove to them I am coming back,” he said. “I used it as my motivation.” Deep truths coming from a young man who made his own luck and forged his own path by not allowing a colostomy to hold him back. Of course, he overcame the odds. With the help of lawyers and doctors, Michael fought his way back into the sport he loves. In April, he returned to the ring to pursue his dream with two more victories in both bouts since the suspension was lifted.
In case you’re curious, Michael says getting hit in the stoma site doesn’t hurt more or feel any different than any other punch. It still feels like getting punched in the stomach though, so still quite unpleasant. Thank goodness for gear. He also says that he doesn’t struggle with anything different from any other boxer when it comes to staying fit, hydrated, or making weight before a fight. “Be focused on what you want. Do whatever you want,” he says. Michael hopes his message will help anyone discouraged about playing sports or any activity because of their ostomy.
The key, though? The key to surviving? The key to thriving? That all depends on what you do next. And what you do next? Well, that's up to you. Sometimes, the ultimate fight in life is choosing to feel fully alive. Michael picked boxing, and there’s no misunderstanding about his goals. He intends to WIN. As he steps into the squared circle for his next bout, rest assured we'll be rooting him on.