Boxing through Life's Challenges: The Inspirational Journey of Jatin Nayyar

The GWSB senior shares his journey living with Tourette syndrome to advocate for mental health and disabilities.

September 20, 2023

Man sits on chair in corner of a boxing ring

GWSB senior Jatin Nayyar, who is concentrating in sports management, trains at Urban Boxing nearby GW's campus. Boxing, he says, is a liberating way to tackle the challenges of living with Tourette syndrome. (Photos by William Atkins/GW Today)

It’s ironic that a sport sometimes decided by a single knockout punch is also one that requires endurance and perseverance strong enough to withstand the body being pushed to its limit.

Boxing, as it happens, is also a perfect life metaphor for George Washington University senior business student Jatin Nayyar, which is perhaps why he’s so riveted by it.

Up to six times a week, Nayyar, who is concentrating in sports management, puts his body through hell during a robust training session. He goes back and forth between sparring in the ring, jabbing and crossing on punching bags for minutes on end before heading straight to the back hallway for a medicine ball routine. No matter how much it hurts and how much he might want it to end, his fortitude fends off the doubt. And he’ll do it again the next day.

That’s how Nayyar has lived his life since age 8, when he was first diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.

Taking the punch

For the past 13 years, the jabs he’s most used to are the tics that dislocate his rib or cause him to blurt out sounds that elicit stares from those around him. According to the Mayo Clinic, Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder involving repetitive movements or unwanted sound. Not only can the sudden movements hinder quality of life, but the syndrome is associated with conditions that include ADHD, OCD, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety and anger. There are also serious side effects such as dizziness, headache and dehydration.

Nayyar has been hospitalized nearly 100 times due to tic attacks. Once, in fact, he lost 40 pounds in two weeks because of the profuse sweating that came with a steady barrage of tics. Neurologists told him that they had never seen a recurrence episode quite like it. Twice while attending high school at the Ranney School in New Jersey, he had to take a medical leave—once for Tourette syndrome and the other for his mental health.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t see much of a future past high school,” Nayyar said.  

Man practices in a boxing ring

He felt angry. A lot. And even though he had what he describes as an incredibly strong support system at home and at school, he didn’t know of anyone else going through the daily grind he experienced.

“I had no one to look up to and nobody I could see,” Nayyar said. “I just needed some input and advice. My whole life, I’ve been searching for that.”

The search, which had him cross dark valleys and seemingly unending roads, ultimately led him right back to where it started. Because on his journey, he found that in himself.

Giving the punch

2018 was a pivotal year in Nayyar’s life. He was formally diagnosed with depression, and it was during this time that he most questioned his own will to live. But it was also the year he took it upon himself to challenge the stigmas that so heavily consumed him. He founded Just A Label, a platform that promotes mental health and disability awareness. He started to own this part of him and continued his work as a youth advocate for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders (NJCTS), which he started as a freshman in high school.

He has since spoken at universities, schools and hospitals sharing his personal story, and in doing so has received six proclamations from New Jersey state senators for his contributions to Tourette syndrome awareness. In 2019, he was New Jersey’s top fund raiser for the New Jersey Walk for Tourette’s Syndrome, raising more than $4,000.

“It’s incredible to see the confidence grow over time, but it’s also really cool to see when they’ve realized that they’ve made an impact,” said NJCTS Youth Development Coordinator Lisa Augliera. “In presentations, Jatin has been very open about not just his TS [Tourette’s syndrome] but the things it causes, like depression, and how he had been in really difficult places. But he’s come out of them and has been stronger for it.”

Aside from leaning on those closest to him, sports were his outlet, whether it was watching his beloved New York Giants on Sundays or playing tennis for the Ranney School.

But the boxing ring is where he found and continues to find the most solace. Just before enrolling at GW in 2020, Nayyar bought a punching bag to put in his parents’ garage. Strapping on the gloves he purchased at Amazon, Nayyar punched away, but with a purpose. He aimed to not just hit the bag but through it, which allowed him to release years’ worth of pent-up anxiety.

“I’ve never felt that much liberation throughout my body,” Nayyar said.

Man stares at boxing bag getting ready to punch

Since then, he’s become a regular in the ring, whether it’s practicing with GW’s club team, where he serves as a co-captain, or training at Urban Boxing just down the road from GW. He loves the discipline boxing has provided him, allowing him to practice what he calls controlled aggression.

Training isn’t immune to a tic episode, but when he does have one, he finds it within himself to push through. That carries over to other parts of his life, including academics.

“When I’m in more pain, I go harder because I know that I have to work 10 times harder,” Nayyar said. “One tic is 30 seconds of lost concentration, so I’m always working 10 times harder just to be on the same playing field.”

In doing so, he’s using his platforms to make sure people who are fighting their own battles have a place on that field.

At GW, he’s an officer for the Sports Business Association and was the former director for civic engagement at Alpha Kappa Psi. He tells everyone he knows, including his teammates and club mates, that he’s there for them should they need a voice of comfort or a shoulder to lean on. He posts motivational talks to Just A Label’s Instagram account. He addresses packed groups of students to share his story, and he always leaves his phone number on the white board and encourages people to text him, even anonymously if they wish.

Nayyar’s “gateway to normalcy,” sports, is also the gateway to a budding career. At GW, he’s been heavily involved in the sports management program and has interned at both Super Bowls LV in Tampa Bay and LVI in Los Angeles and this past summer in partnership activation and sales with his hometown New York Yankees. He’s also been a student ambassador and interview helper for the for the Sports Industry Networking and Career Conference at GW. In the classroom, Nayyar was on a case competition team that became the first GW group to win the PCMA Global Student Competition.

These experiences have given him the idea to one day work in the front office of a professional sports franchise or become a sports agent. Quite a long way from someone who, in his own words, didn’t see too far past high school.

While he’d love to experience even just a day living without Tourette syndrome, he firmly believes that fighting through it the past 13 years of his life has made him a better son, brother, boxer and student. Pushing through the pain and anger, he said, has allowed him to become a better version of himself—so much so that he’s advocating now on behalf of others.

“That’s the thing we want kids that are struggling to see,” Augliera said. “It doesn’t mean that they are never going to have struggles or that everyone is going to achieve the same thing. The point is that it’s possible.”

He is a staunch believer in that it’s OK to not be OK and that it actually shows a great deal of strength to ask for help.

In boxing, the body is always exposed to punishment and vulnerability. The same goes for life, as Nayyar learned at a young age. But embracing that, Nayyar said, will always give a person a puncher’s chance at persevering.

“There’s a person that everyone sees, and there’s a person that nobody sees. There’s anger and agitation in everyone, but you’ve got to push through it,” Nayyar said. “Pain is inevitable in all of us. But pain is temporary. The skills you garner through the time of pain and the ways in which you handle yourself and other people stay with you permanently.”