December 23, 2021

80. Steve Tolen on Breaking the Shackles and Unleashing the Beast Within

Born and bred in Liverpool, Steve Tolen started in business with his father at 17. After 10 years he was searching for a change of career and scenery, moving with his then-pregnant wife to Australia. Three kids and almost 20 years later, Steve has forged a career in corporate sales, HR solutions and recruitment.

Needing a Change

On January 1st, 2021, having been through two lockdowns in Sydney, Steve woke up and stepped on the scales. The number he saw wasn’t great. However, it shocked him into action! At 43 years of age, in a corporate job, far from his peak physical condition and knowing he needed to kickstart a change, Steve signed up for Corporate Fighter.

Corporate Fighter is a 12 week boxing challenge that involves abstaining from alcohol, training 5 times a week and a final bout in front of six or seven hundred spectators to cap off the challenge. While Corporate Fighter also raises money for Beyond Blue, Steve wanted to make the challenge even more personal, enlisting the support of friend and former Wallaby, Richard Tombs, to hold him accountable. Steve committed to raising money for Richard’s charity, Guns Out Spinal Foundation.

Trust the Process

With a daunting challenge in front of him and the pressure and accountability of publicly raising money for a high-profile charity, Steve took the bull by the horns. Between the regular group sessions and his own external practice, Steve was training around 12 times a week, watching the weight fall off and the donations pile up.

Yet, despite the initial progress, Steve wasn’t quite ready for the sparring that began in week five. With admittedly awful technique and a defence that leaked like a sieve, Steve hit his lowest point in week six. Arriving home after a particularly rough night of sparring, Steve’s wife was concerned for his safety and he questioned whether this journey was right for him. Through self-reflection and good coaching, Steve was able to reframe his sparring experiences. A bad night was a bad night; improvement was incremental. He just had to get back on the bike and keep pedaling. Steve learned to take the hits and respect his sparring partners and, most importantly, his defence began to improve.

Within a week, Steve went through a sparring session under the guidance of one of his coaches, Rupert, and came out of it to exclamations of, “You are bulletproof!” He began to think that his ticket to making it through his boxing match would be to simply keep himself in the ring with his defence and take whatever opportunities presented themselves.

Steve had taken a huge leap in progress, both physically and mentally. One of the key pieces of advice he received was to trust in the process. The coaches had done this all before – they knew how to push him and keep him on track – he just needed to trust them and keep turning up. As the weight continued to come off, he dropped weight categories and gained confidence. Yet, what was still lacking was the nerve to truly attack. Days before the fight, Steve’s coach tore shreds off him for his lack of killer instinct. For a bloke who looked like a bouncer, he wasn’t doing enough bouncing. It was in these final days before the bout that Steve really came into his own as a boxer.

Fight Night

The day of the fight came and Steve, having dropped 14 kilograms, was faced with the daunting challenge of fighting a man 17 years his junior. But Steve felt ready – he had done everything he could. He knew he didn’t have the stamina of his opponent, so he decided he needed to go hard from the start. Beginning like an uncaged animal, bombarding his opponent with blows in the opening seconds, Steve won the opening round convincingly and followed this up with a second round win. With the third round a formality and feeling completely gassed, Steve pulled off a win that many thought was unlikely. After 12 weeks of blood, sweat and tears, there was no way in his mind that he was going to come off second best. The cherry on top was raising almost $6000 dollars for Guns Out Spinal Foundation.

Steve ended the challenge with soaring self-belief and a huge sense of accomplishment. In the space of three months he had gone from an overweight father of three in a corporate job, to a fit and confident boxing champion who had overcome pain and fear in the test of a lifetime.

Steve’s final word of wisdom to any man feeling stuck or seeking a new challenge is not to dwell in your comfort zone, but to push yourself. The reason this challenge worked for Steve was that he knew he had to step outside the current version of himself to achieve it. When we adopt the principle of venturing beyond our comfort zones and pushing ourselves to new challenges, we set ourselves up not just for success, but for growth.

Stay legendary,

Grego and Pricey