My Bully Story – Zach Walters
“I’ve never knew this story about Zach and the information below is completely new to me. It’s a very powerful story, and it has now become clear to me what drove Zach to work so tirelessly.”
– Chuck Horton
All the reading I have been seeing on social media and the news about bullying in today’s schools has brought back memories about my younger years of getting bullied. Those memories aren’t fun to think on, but maybe if I share them you can find some hope for yourself. As you can see, I am typing this so it all worked out in the end. Below is my bully story from start to finish.
The early days of my childhood where spent on the island of Madagascar in a good home with loving parents and three siblings. I have an older brother, a younger brother, and younger sister. Life on Madagascar was simple and it was a life I understood from an early age. I was into being in the wild and connected to nature. I enjoyed hunting, fishing, and hiking around as much as I could. I had a pet parrot that rode around on my shoulder. It was an easy life and I liked it. Then my family ran into some tough decisions and had to move to US.
I thought the move would be temporary. “How could we ever live in the US the rest of our life?” I thought. As the weeks turned to months and months to years I realized we were not going back. These days were a struggle for me on many levels.
I was 12 years old then. I was new to the US Public Schools. The atmosphere was not kind and welcoming like I thought it would be. I was clueless to say the least. When we moved from Madagascar it was the middle summer there. February was the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, but winter time in St Paul, MN. I was “fresh off the boat” from Madagascar and couldn’t feel more out of my element. I never liked the cold. In school I was in 5th grade, but I was older than the kids in my class due to being held back the year earlier. I was awkwardly taller than the others in my class so it added to my standing out.
I didn’t know much about fitting in or other social rules with kids in the States. I was clueless. I thought being from Madagascar would be a cool thing, but it was not. It made me different. I remember at lunch time I wanted to hang with the 6th graders because I thought I could relate a bit more to them Du to being closer in age. The trouble was labeled a 5th grader despite my age. I had to sit at the 5th grade table. When I tried to hang with the 6th grade kids after eating it didn’t go well. They told me to go away; sometimes not very nicely. I didn’t like feeling of being rejected so I chose to walk the snowy borders of the school yard till the bell rang to go inside.
I was a loner and wanted to make friends in the worst way. I talked with kids here and there who asked questions about where I was from and what not, but not much else. This was when the jokes and taunts started. It was mild at first as the kids got to know me. Then after I opened up a bit more kids started using it against me. “Go climb a tree bush whacker”… I remember hearing being yelled at me one day as I walked the yard. I looked over at the group of kids who all thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t do anything; just kept walking. The days that followed got worse. I had snow balls thrown at me by the group. I hated the snow and the cold got colder. I never got hit hard enough to be hurt, but knowing kids were throwing stuff at me because I was a loner new kid was eating at me.
One day I remember trying to hide up in a tree. I thought I would be safe there till the bell rang. I was not hidden well, but figured walking the grounds led to taunts and snowballs thrown at me so a tree would be safer. I was wrong. I maybe stood out more now that I was in a leafless winter tree. The kids found me and actually drew a little crowd. The ones that had me picked from before started hurling some comments to make fun of me. Then there were a few that threw snow balls and ice chunks up at me. I just tried to ignore them. They were not a good throw anyway and I knew they would leave me alone sometime because lunch time was short. The bell rang and they left. As I climbed down a teacher saw me and walked over scolding me for climbing the tree. “What were you doing up there? You could fall and break your neck…” I told her I was trying to catch a squirrel that had darted into a leave nest. She told me it was not ok to climbing trees and if I climbed trees again I would get in trouble. I didn’t tell her I was actually trying to hide from the kids that picked on me.
I then tried sitting on the steps by the front door where everyone lined up to go inside. I wanted to be as close to indoors as possible. My butt froze on the steps those days, but the taunting group of kids left me alone when I was there. Maybe it was because I was close to the office windows where staff could see them. I don’t know.
A few days later the same kids that taunted me in the field invited me to play a game with them and a large group of other kids. It was a game I had watched them play before; “Red Rover Red Rover”. The game was set up with two big lines of kids linked by the elbows. The goal was to call out a kid from the other side to run into the line on the other side. The goal was to break the chain. If the chain was broken the winning side got to steal a person from the other to grow their side. If the chain held that team would gain a player. This exchange would go back and forth till one side took all the players from the other they won. OK, so here I go. Here was my opportunity to earn some friends. All I have to do is hold on or break through the other side if I’m called on. I can do that.
“Red Rover Red Rover send Steven right over…” a girl on my team called out. Steven (Not his real name) was one of the kids from the group that picked on me. He was kind of the leader. Steven came running across the divide and right at me. I gripped my elbows tight to do my part and hold on. Instead of hitting my elbows he barreled his shoulder right into my stomach. My arms were gripped tight by the other kids and I was hit dead in the guts. I wasn’t ready for a hit in the belly and the wind got knocked out of me. I crunched to the ground gasping for air. I was in shock. He laughed hard and loud. Almost like a fake laugh. The other kids joined in snickering along with him.
“Come on squirrel boy. You gotta hold on better than that if you’re going to play with us.” Steven said. I was still painfully trying to catch my breath. I choked back my tears of pain and nodded my head. Steven picked a person to grow his team’s line. Then it was their turn to call one of my team over. I was ready if they called me. They called did call me.
“Red Rover Red Rover send ‘Madagascar boy’ right over.” It was a nick name I had been called in the before. I didn’t like it, but whatever. It was my turn to run across and break the chains. I knew I could do it. I ran across the divide right at Steven. I wanted to get him back for nailing me good and I was also tired of all his crap. Right as I was going to smash into his arms he said “phantom chains”, which was some trick wording rule he made up, and let go right where I was trying to hit.
I went sailing past and clumsily fell onto the frozen ground. The kids laughed at me. I was embarrassed. I knew now these kids weren’t trying to be my friend. They were using me for a joke. I got up with tears in my eyes. I didn’t want them to see them so I turned away and started walking. They called me back to keep playing, but I just walked. I was confused on the game and confused on why they were being mean to me. ‘Was “phantom chains” a real rule? If not then why didn’t the kids on my side challenge the rule.’ They must have been in on the joke.
When I was a safe distance away I asked; “Why are you guys being mean to me.” This was mainly directed at Steven.
“I’m not being mean. It’s how you play the game.” He answered.
I knew this was a lie. I had never seen this rule, or the tackle, during the time I watched the game played from the steps. I couldn’t stop the tears this time. I turned away and walked toward the edge of the field. Here I thought I was finally getting some acceptance, but all it was really them trying to find a way to get away with hurting me. I started to feel deep anger well up.
I was deep in the field when bell rang to get back to class. I walked back toward the school slowly. I was very mad and didn’t know what to do about it. I was a good kid; a missionary kid. I just wanted to go back to Madagascar where I knew stuff. I wanted to go back where I knew how to be cool and accepted. The cold hell of Minnesota was not for me.
On my way back in from the field a kid I never met walked up to me and asked why I was being such a baby. I can’t remember his name. He wasn’t part of the group from earlier. But he was like them. Mean. I didn’t answer right away. After his question he laughed and he kept pace with me walking toward the school. I couldn’t believe his nerve.
Then I mumbled, “How would you feel if you were me.”
“Huh? What you say? What? You tryin’ to get smart now?” He was grinning with a mean smile and got up real close. He put his face right in front of mine in with a sad clown face looking for an anser. At this very time I got an itch in my nose and sneezed. My sneeze sprayed all over. The kid pushed me stumbling off to the side.
“You think you can spit at me?!” he yelled. He looked fierce now. Not joking around.
“I didn’t. I sneezed.” I replied. No sooner did I say this and he snorted and spit a giant flem ball in my face. The flem ball hit the corner of my eye, nose and mouth. Some got in my mouth. It was gross. It smelled like un-brushed morning breath. I didn’t cry. I just wiped it off and kept walking in. I felt numb. I had already cried my tears in the field and had none left. I wasn’t scared. I was at me breaking point.
“That’s right. Keep walking Africa Boy.” He said as we split to go in separate doors.
That was the worst lunch hour of my life at that time. After school it was time for the long walk back to the Mission Apartments. We would gather in lines by the cross walks and wait for our turn to walk through as a group. I stood in line about three deep from the front. A kid pushed me from behind and made a comment about the Red Rover game from earlier. I turned around and without much thought pushed him back hard as I could. He stumbled back a bit in surprise and came back at me to push me again. As he got close I punched him hard as I could in the face. My little punch hit him square in the nose and blood exploded everywhere in the white snow around us!
“What the heck” he said. “I thought we were playing around. Why did you hit me.” I just stood there, numb to the whole situation. Again, I was somehow in the wrong. A teacher came rushing over and took us to the office. The kid was quick to talk. “We were just paying around and he hit me.” I didn’t say anything. I was mad. I was fed up and felt like nothing could help.
My mom got a call to come pick me up. I was broken inside and just sat there in a daze. I was so full of anger from this terrible day. I had all I could take. When my mom arrived to pick me up from school she had to meet with the principal and me. I tried to tell my story. But got choked up and distorted my points. I’m not sure if it made any sense at all.
My consequence was ‘closed noons’ for three days. What a relief. This was actually a bonus because I got to stay warm instead of freeze n the step. I didn’t care that I lost my mid-day freedom. I was also glad to be away from all those mean kids on the yard. After that bad day things died down a bit. My noon hours were lonely, but at least I wasn’t a target any longer.
A few months went by and my folks decided to move to California. There was an apartment center in Fresno California for families transitioning from third world countries. It was the perfect fit for us. All of the family needed a little extra help and there was a counseling center there to help us through. We had a brief family meeting about the decision, but it seemed like a no-brainer. Of course we wanted to move to a warm place. I hated the snow and didn’t ever want to see the mean kids again. This would be a better place for us.
The move to California went fast. Life there was not as easy as I had hoped. It was actually a bit harder, but at least I didn’t have to deal with the cold! I didn’t tell kids I was from Madagascar. Instead I told them I was from MN. I thought this was safer, but I was wrong. That made me un-cool because I guess California kids are where cool begins and Minnesota was not cool. OK.
Then there was my first nick name. It wasn’t based on being teased about being from Madagascar. It was something far off. It came from the school milk. The school milk was from “Zacky Farms”. Bang! There you go. My name was now “Zacky Farms” and I couldn’t shake it. I asked kids not to call me that, but it didn’t work. Random kids would yell it from a distance when I would walk out to play for lunch time. I remember one day at the lunch table getting so angry about kids calling me names I hammered my fists onto the table and yelled, “STOP!!”
A teacher came over and asked what asked what was happening. I told her the kids around me were making fun of me. She scholed the kids around me and then moved me the end of the table closer to where she was to keep an eye on me. I could hear a few of the kids whisper “Zacky Farms” and “Squealer” under their breath. Here I was again. I was the brunt of the jokes and couldn’t make a friend to save my life.
On kid in particular had my number, his name was “Bubba.” This was his nick name. I can’t remember his real name. He was a big kid. Way heavy for his age and height. He was a rolly polly tank of a kid that the other kids didn’t mess with because he was twice their size. Anyway, one day at noon hour I joined in a game of soccer. I could play as good, or better, than most the kids in school due to playing a bit in Madagascar. Soccer was a major sport in Madagascar and my basic understanding of the game helped me fit in a bit during noon. I would watch the game at play and figure out which team was down a few players or loosing then join in.
One day I was doing my thing and joined a game. There was a time mid-game that Bubba was dribbling the ball down the field. He was not very coordinated and his skills were terrible, yet the other kids would let him through with the ball because they were intimidated. I matched up with his path and easily stole the ball with a few kicks. I ran the ball down the field and kicked a goal! I was pretty pumped for my team and turned around smiling. To my surprise the kids on my team didn’t look very happy. They instead looked scared. Right then before I knew it I got kicked from behind right between the legs. I dropped to the ground in shock before turning see who kicked me. It was Bubba.
There he was ten paces away laughing at me in my pain and embarrassment. I felt a rage seep down my spine. My stomach hurt and I felt like barfing, but the anger was more. I charged at Bubba and did a flying jump kick to his chest. I had learned this kick in Madagascar from scrapping with my buddies for fun after watching Bruce Lee movies. Anyway, the kick sent Bubba backward to the ground and I collapsed on top of him. I proceeded to pound his face in with my fists. There was a shadow of kids that gathered around us as I let it all out. It was quite a scene. All the anger I had build up from my time in Minnesota and now in my early days in California got taken out on Bubba. I kept smashing away at his face till I was restrained by a few teachers. We were taken to the office and got suspended for the rest of the week. I got in major trouble from my folks too. They were very disappointed with my actions. I tried to justify them by giving a history lesson about Minnesota kids and now California kids being rotten. My basic argument was ‘they don’t understand me’, but they didn’t buy it. There was no reason to fight at school.
When I got back to school the next week a few kids talked to me. They were impressed that I stood up to Bubba. They asked where I learned to fight. I told them it was self taught from watching kung fu movies and rough housing with my brothers. I didn’t see myself as any hero. I was just a kid that got fed up and blew up on Bubba. I didn’t care why these kids befriended me. I liked it. I finally had friends. One thing about these friends, though, was they like to get into mischief. They had older brothers that were into gangs and we started to think of the four of us as a little gang. We didn’t make up a name or anything, but we each agreed to have each other’s back so if anything went down we could defend each other. This seemed fair to me. These were my first friends. We got in to trouble for various minor issues till I was eventually expelled from school. This was 6th grade.
Then in 7th grade it was ‘welcome to middle school’. Kids were older and there was the pecking order of kids getting into gangs to force their way. One day I tripped a kid trying to budge in the lunch line with some of his gangster buddies. The kid stumbled a bit and turned around to punch me. Before he got his punch off I rained punches on him in a chaotic mess.
I thought this would be like 6th grade where I got in one fight and made a few friends. I was wrong. I had major problems this time. I got suspended, but when I got back to school I had made my first real enemies. There were rumors about their gang plotting to kill me. This was real talk in Fresno and not to be taken lightly. Drive bys were big those days. When I walked home from school would continually stare in the windows of the cars driving to see if I could recognize any of them in the windows. I didn’t want to get shot.
The death threats didn’t materialize, but I did get jumped after school a couple times. I remember sneaking my way home by jumping the fences to walk along the canals. Those were a safe bet. There were no cars to watch out for drive by shootings and the gangster kids didn’t know my secret get away.
Finally, there was another gang that I somehow offended by ‘dissing them’ by wearing the wrong color belt on a walk. This was not at school, but over the weekend. These three kids went to my middle school and I knew about them from talk in the halls at school. They trapped in me along a fence and wouldn’t let me go till I gave up my blue belt. I took a couple punches to the face, before reluctantly giving them my belt. It wasn’t that bad, but it was embarrassing. I figured after I gave them my belt I would be ok with these guys. I was wrong. There was one of the gangster kids that decided to carry thing on when he saw me at school. Ramon was his name. He was real mean. He was the one that punched me a few times over the belt. When he saw me in the hall the following week he made a point to start a problem. He wanted me to show some respect when I saw him coming. I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. Next thing I know I get decked in the face in front of a bunch of his ganger buddies. I didn’t understand this, but I knew I didn’t want to let it go any further. I needed to make it stop; how to do it was the question.
I figured I would have to get single him out and confront him one on one. I was confident in my ability to fight one on one with anyone at school. Getting jumped was the thing I had to watch out for. I made a violent plan to get back at him in the hallway the next day. I was planning to attack him by surprise when he didn’t see it coming. I figured if I beat him up one on one I’d get me respect back from him. I brought a little pocket knife along with to fend off his boys if they saw things go down and jumped in. My plan was set.
I had one friend I trusted at the time. CJ was his name and we had first hour of class together. I told him my plan in confidence because I was anxious about what I was planning. During my second hour class I got called to the office. I didn’t know why this would be because I hadn’t done anything recently to be in trouble. After I stepped in I found out CJ had told the office my plans. He was afraid things would go too far if I carried out my plan. He was probably right. You don’t mess with a ganger kid without facing the after math. I was expelled from school that day due to a zero tolerance rule for weapons on school property. I was ticked off at the time, but for all I know, CJ saved my life. Had he not told on me I may have done something really stupid which would ultimately put me on a short list for further gang retaliation. AKA… being shot, stabbed, or seriously hurt in some way.
I went to home schooling for a few months and then got into another school across town. My problems didn’t stop there. Shortly after going to school there I joined a gang and shortly after that I wound up getting expelled from that school as well for bad behavior. My 7th grade year was tough. I treated it like a battle field. I was continually on edge watching my back. I started to strike first when a kid got smart. In a way, I started turning into the kids I didn’t like. I didn’t realize it till later in life. All in knew was it was a process of me trying to stand up for myself the best I knew how. I didn’t want to do the things I did, but in my short sighted mind I didn’t see much of a choice.
After my seventh grade year my folks had enough of Fresno California and decided to moved back to Minnesota. I wasn’t the only one having a tough time out there. Our whole family was in a rut. We moved to a tiny town called Erhard, MN (population 167) and lived on a farm. After living in a 400,000+ population city Erhard, MN felt like another culture shock to me. I took my social lessons from California and applied them right away in school. Since Erhard was so small my siblings and I went to school in nearby town called Pelican Rapids.
I didn’t want another disaster episode in school so I tried to play it cool. I tried my best not to cause waves. I made a few friends and we caused some playful mischief, but nothing too bad at first. Then I started taking it too far. The lessons I learned in Fresno didn’t apply in small town MN. Getting respect by making the others fear me was not ok. The class mates in my grade were not the issue. It was the students in the several grades above me that brought a problem. Being an 8th grader out me in the high school where there were young adult type kids in the hallways. Soon the fight started and I was getting pushed around in the hallways by upperclassmen. I was back in the rut of getting in trouble. I was labeled a trouble maker and in a small town once your labeled that’s it. it feels like you can’t change.
I started to hang with the local rough crowd and did what they did. Some were drop outs from a few years back and some were in my school. They smoked cigarettes and experimented with drugs so I did the same. I was like a chameleon. I just wanted friends and if my friends did drugs so did I. My troubled times only got worse as I got older and more capable of bad. My brothers were having similar problems. We had become a trio of hardened kids. We fought with each other and everyone in between and our level of mischief had become seriously criminal. My parents were at their wits end for solutions to the rough adjustment I was having to living in the US. This was when I found boxing.
It started with my training for kick boxing with a local Tae Quan Do instructor. I wanted to train to fight, but didn’t want to get into the belt system. My brother Jake had been in Tae Quan Do for a year and had a high ranking belt. I didn’t like the idea of him having a higher belt than me so I trained there as a kick boxer. This worked out for a few weeks till the instructor recommended boxing to me. He had boxed in his early years and recommended a gym in Fergus Falls. I checked it out and fell in love with the sport the first day. The crowd in the gym was a rougher group of guys and they sparred every day! I liked the idea of sharpening m fighting skills every day and signed up to join the next week. From there, my life started to get better, but it was not an instant resolution. It was a slower process.
Boxing was an outlet for the anger I had and a constructive way to vent it out. It was also a positive identity for me. It was how I started to be known… “Zach the boxer kid.” I liked it. Not only that, but with my reputation as a boxer I was able to be the tough guy I wanted people to think I was and not have to fight in school. I was better at boxing than I thought and I got a lot positive attention for my accomplishments in the ring. In fact, in my first year of competition I battled my way to 3rd in the nation.
My family move again to get another fresh start. This time we lived in Fergus Falls where I had started boxing. ‘Here we go again’, I thought. A difference with this move was some of the trouble I had caused in Pelican Rapids came with me. This caused a hiccup in my early days of boxing. The stuff I had pending was more severe than I wanted to realize and it was clear a juvenile justice placement was on the horizon. When I got word of this I ran away from home. This was a dumb idea. I lived on the streets for 3 long months before getting caught. I stayed at friends houses, abandoned cars and finally lived out of an abandoned trailer house out in the woods for a while.
When I was finally picked up I ended up in Woodland Hills Group Home here in Duluth. At Woodland Hills I started to connect the dots of how I could better sort out my anger. I also learned how my poor choices affected my parents indirectly. Learned a lot about myself, but I ultimately learned I wanted a different life than what I was doing. After my stay at Woodland Hills I got back into boxing as a therapeutic outlet to deal with my anger and use as a motivation to avoid the party life of drugs and alcohol.
After I graduated high school I decided to return to Duluth to attend college at UMD and continue my pursuit of boxing at Horton’s Gym. I saw life in Duluth as another fresh start. I was determined to make this one my last start. This would be my home. I wanted a clean road and a good history. I didn’t want to have legal trouble in my history. I excelled at boxing and did well in school, but a year and a half into my new home I ran into a major snag that almost derailed my dreams. What ultimately saved my life was getting back into boxing and living a sober Christian life. Leaving the party scene behind and perusing boxing gave me the life I have now. Today I have a family, a career, and live a city I now call home.
I sometimes wonder how my life would have gone had I not been bullied during my early years in the States. In the end I see it all as part of what made me, me. It was tough getting bullied. I hated it. Because of it I wound up making a lot of poor life choices. But in the end my history makes me who I am today.
These days are a bit different than back when I was in school. Social Media and the internet provide growing options to bully. We won’t eliminate bullies and we can’t stop kids from picking on each other. What we can do is teach kids how to deal with bullying in a positive way and confront bullying when we see it. I made a lot of mistakes in how I dealt with the effects of my bullies. I am not saying what I did was the right way to deal with being bullied. It’s just my story. I am glad to be past those years for sure.
I will leave you with a quote from my friend’s voice mail; “Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.” I think of it often as I go through my days. It’s so true. It wasn’t fair that I went through my years of getting bullied, but because of that I found boxing and boxing changed my life for the better. I love the person I’ve become.