A dingy boxing studio may not be comforting to most, but for Christian Marchegiani, the punching bag was better then therapy. Caitlin Ganter spoke to the fitness coach and Excess Baggage star about beating the bullies.
When Christian Marchegiani was 18 years old, a judge gave him the choice between jail, the army, and a boxing gym. He chose boxing.
Now 34, Christian has completed a degree in exercise science at ACU, founded the internationally renowned THUMP Boxing, and starred on the Nine Network’s reality weight loss series Excess Baggage.
“I can remember most of my school years being very tough and very unhappy,” he said. “I hated going to school and by the time I was in high school I was actually scared to. I felt as if I just did not belong and was picked on constantly.
“To the other kids I was fat and a mummy’s boy. Mum did what she could to protect me and she even gave up work two days a week to be in the school tuck shop, just to be closer to me. Another time, she got a job close to the school so she could see me every day at the bus stop… but none of it stopped the bullying.”
As he got older, Christian sought solace in a gang and years of built up resentment and anger were unleashed.
“Later into my teens I got bigger and a lot stronger, so when I was bullied I started fighting back. I fell in with a gang and after a while I stopped getting picked on - but I still had a lot of anger. My friends and I were always looking for a fight.
“When I was 18, we would go to Kings Cross to collect debts from people or go to clubs to pick a fight. One night in a turf war we fought with knives and baseball bats and my mate got stabbed. An ambulance came and while others escaped, my mate and I were taken to hospital – I had broken my thumbs from punching.
“While he was being treated in emergency the police came and I got scared and bolted, but they came to my door at 3am. It went to court, and I received my first wake-up call when the judge told me I can go to jail, the army, or I can join a boxing gym.
“A police officer I had come to know told me I would be dead by the time I was 21 if I did not change my ways. He was running a Boys Club at Burwood and invited me along. I went because it was something to do and a place to hang out.”
Christian not only took a liking to boxing, but discovered he was pretty good at it.
“I was strong, but very overweight,” he said. “Spending time with the boxers and trainers, I lost about 50 kilograms and started to look and feel better. Boxing helped me channel my anger - I no longer wanted to get into fights because I had used up all my energy in the boxing gym. It taught me discipline and respect and more importantly, it made me feel good about myself.”
When he was 21, Christian saw an advertisement for trainers at the YMCA in New York. He got the job and spent four months teaching teens fitness and boxing.
“I loved training people and when I came back to Sydney I knew that was what I wanted to do. I went for a job at a local gym and got the Sunday afternoon shift, the one no one wanted. Then I enrolled at ACU in exercise science.
During his studies, Christian found he was basing all his assignments around boxing, and that his lecturers and fellow students were intrigued by the sport.
“I noticed there was a lot of interest around boxing, and as a uni student I needed extra money - so I started my own boxing gym. I rented a room above a mechanic’s garage in Five Dock, Sydney, and started running classes.
“I wanted it to be a place where anyone, even those who felt uncomfortable in a commercial gym, could come and train by simply signing in and out at the front desk. Business continued to grow until THUMP Boxing was born.”
Enthusiasts began asking Christian for boxing instructor lessons, so THUMP branched into training courses. Eight years later, THUMP is no longer in the room above a garage, but in gyms around the world – offering multilevel accreditation courses in boxing.
Last year a casting agent called Christian and invited him to audition for Excess Baggage.
“I thought why not, I’ll will give it a go, and I couldn’t believe it when I got the part,” he said. “I was so excited but tried to act cool about it all, which helped fight the nerves.
“The first time I got on camera I was really, really nervous, but just told myself I have been in far worse positions than this. I blocked everything out and got on with it but it is definitely nerve wracking having about 60 people standing around watching you say your lines.”
Christian has also founded Underdogs, an Australian organisation that aims to empower people through physical and emotional development.
“Underdogs is my anti-bullying campaign, but it is also about helping people overcome any emotional or physical issues that are holding them back in life,” he said. “It is about tapping into the human spirit to help people realise their full potential through courage, self-discovery and team-work.
“I organise different events such as helping orphanages in Cambodia, walking the Kokoda Track or volunteering our time to victims of the Queensland floods. Last year I organised a bike ride from Brisbane to Sydney to raise awareness against bullying and depression - we went through towns talking to people about the effects of bullying.
“I like to fight for the underdog - I believe they are the people who can rise above adversity and prove everyone wrong. In the end it is the underdog who is the great role model and will show the world they can overcome anything through determination and resilience.”
Christian said that while bullies made his childhood hell, he wouldn’t change his past, and has his sights set firmly on his future.
“To the kids who are being bullied I say don’t give up. Talk to people and don’t bottle it up. There is always someone that cares and never for once think it is your fault that you’re picked on.
“Looking back on it now I never thought I would be where I am today. I’ve worked with Australia’s best athletes, have been on TV and made the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine – it’s like a dream.
“If I saw my childhood bullies, I would welcome them for a chat and thank them for making me the person I am today. It is because of them I am so determined and resilient, and there isn’t a more powerful moment in life then when you stop blaming everyone for what has happened to you.”