Wednesday, July 22, 2015

National Women's Golden Gloves- Ft. Lauderdale

The Decision to Go




Three weeks ago, my friend Traci and I went to the National Women's Golden Gloves tournament in Ft. Lauderdale Florida.  We both knew we would have matches so it would be well worth the trip.  I was already planning on attending/shooting the Women's International Hall of Fame event which was to happen on the last day there so this was an added surprise.

I found out through a Masters Boxing FB page that there was a woman named Angela Woody Huffman, who was also a Masters at 106lbs.  While she has had some smoker fights, she never fought in a USA sanctioned bout against another "Master."  I put quotes around Master because to me, it's deceiving in reference to amateur boxing.  A Master is someone who has been doing something so often, for so long, with such passion, they have owned it.  They explored every part of the thing they mastered from the inside out and have a savvy execution.  The Masters division in boxing is basically people who still want to fight who are over 40.  We often started way later in life (in my case 40) and are still trying to get the hang of a "young man's/woman's sport."  Because we started the sport so late, we have not mastered the sport at all.  Not. At. All. But I guess it's better than being called "Seniors."

Angela's picture on Facebook looked friendly and sweet.  I could see she was a wife and a mother and liked to bake cakes and cupcakes with artful icing that looked amazing.  She also had a little spark in her blue eyes that showed me she was much more than a happy homemaker.   I agreed to fight her, so she would have the experience of a real USA boxing sanctioned match, but of course, I wanted to see how I would fare against another boxer of my stature who has been training a good amount of time.  My confidence with fighting was still a bit shaky.  I didn't perform so well in my last fight, even though I won, and I wanted to make up for that.  My nerves got the best of me.  I never fought in a tournament out of town and I like to do things that frankly, terrify the shit out of me.

I would be going with, Traci Konas, an emergency room nurse who has been competing in the amateurs for almost two years.  She is very strong, tough, has great head movement, amazing cardio and a incredible heart.  She fights at 112lbs.  She is pretty with kind blue eyes, a fair complexion and dark hair. Her body is strong and toned and compact.  At 39, she is still eligible to qualify for the Olympics.  She did go to the trials in Colorado and lost a close fight to one of the top girls.  Traci is attempting a Herculean task - fighting at an elite level at a later age with less years of training than the women who have been competing at that level for several years.  She always gives them a run for their money and her heart can never ever be questioned. We train together at Wildcard, spar together and give each other support.


Getting There

We decided to make the trip together, share a hotel room and make it a girls' vacation, complete with fighting and meeting other women of the same feather.  We would be each other's corners and find a licensed coach to help once we got there.

After our extremely uncomfortable redeye flight on Spirit Airilines (*cough*) we got in at 7am.  I was completely stoned from Ambien for the next 24 hours.   Never again.  The Ambien didn't even get me to sleep, just made me loopy like a mental patient.  Traci also couldn't get comfortable on the plane and we were laughing at how sore our backs were by the time we made it to the hotel room bed. It would be a couple of days before we would get on East Coast time and our bodies would unravel.

Once I made the tournament plans and posted them on Facebook, I found out Susan Reno, one of the women from my film was going to be there, coaching some of the New York girls from the Metro team.  She agreed to corner me if she didn't have to coach one of the other girls from her team.


Strong, confident and beautiful, Susan is a great role model for female boxers.  She is another compact strong little woman (I seem to collect them) with a great spirit.  She won the NY Golden Gloves during the making "Fight Like a Girl."  She is a pro, and along with her husband, Mike who is head coach of the Fire Department Boxing Team, now coaches the top amateurs in New York. It was fun introducing Traci to Susan.  Since both of them are in our tribe, we all speak the same language; which means we could talk for hours upon hours about our love of boxing.  Of course, Susan is more of a veteran and commands that respect.  It was a treat for the three of us to have lunch together at a restaurant by the water away from the Florida humidity.  Of course, we still had to make weight so it was salad city for us.


Making Weight

Traci likes to walk around near her fighting weight.  Even though many of us tell her it is too light, I think she is afraid of not making weight, so seeing the numbers on the scale close to that weight gives her relief.  I on the other hand, don't see the point as I enjoy ice cream.  I trust that my body will drop to 106lbs even if I typically walk at 110lbs.  Pro fighters have to make much more drastic weight cuts than that and do it all the time.  Also, I know if I am a pound or two over, it's easy to just sweat it out.  Not fun, but easy to drop.   

On the first day, we had to weigh in no more than two pounds above our fighting weight.  At that point, even after the plane ride (you retain water on the plane) I was 108lbs.  Traci was 111lbs.  We ran, shadowboxed, split salads with chicken, ate rabbit nibbles of Cliff bars and after a couple of days, I had only dropped a pound.  Still, I wasn't worried, since I remember losing a pound by jumping rope in heavy sweats for 20 minutes at the NY Golden Gloves weigh ins years ago, but Traci was worried for me.  

We decided to go to Bonnie Canino's boxing gym to really sweat.  Bonnie runs the tournament with her partner, Yvette and offered the fighters her gym to train in.  Traci and I Ubered there and worked  drills in the modest ring.  There was a tall, lean, lanky girl with short dark hair jumping rope, talking with the guy that worked there.

We found out she was also fighting in the tournament at 132lbs.  Her name was Kim and she was from Chicago.  She and her husband, Mark, came out for the tournament.  They rented a car so she offered us a ride back to the hotel.  This was one of the best things that happened to us on the trip; meeting Kim, a savvy vegan with a wry smile and a cool wit.  She had won the Golden Gloves in Chicago and wanted to give it a go at the Nationals.  Immediate bonding began at the gym and continued in the car.  I need to mention that I love tall girls.  At 5'1", I accept my height, but tall girls get me excited about what life could be like a foot higher.


I found out that when Kim first started boxing, she read this blog!  She was excited to find other "crazy women" who did this.  She followed the same women in the sport that I follow and even read an article written by my husband about what it's like to be the husband of a female fighter.  She remembered it from two years ago and shared the crap out of it.  

Once back at the hotel, Kim made smoothies for us.  Since she is a self described OCD vegan she brought her blender, protein powder and had all the makings for delicious smoothies.  AND her room was right next to ours!  Her husband Mark was another tall drink of water and like my husband, he is a smart, cool Asian dude.  He agreed to shoot our fights with my HD camera.  Yes, we were able to get high quality videos of our fights and he framed them very well.

While walking around the hotel, from a corner, I heard, "Hey Jill." It was the sweet blue-eyed woman from the Facebook photos with her two adorable daughters, son, husband and coach.  Angela came up and gave me a hug.  I have to admit, I felt a little weird meeting her daughters and family face to face in such a casual way.  Usually, I don't know my opponent or speak to her.  It makes it easier to let go, hit hard and crave the win.  Looking into her children's adorable eyes made me feel a little....awful.  On the other hand, it is a sport, just like tennis.  I used to have to play my friends in tennis and I would be just as competitive as playing someone I didn't know.  Of course, I wasn't punching them in the face but we all know what we are signing up for when we agree to get in the ring....right?



Since we were to weigh in the next day and I still wasn't breaking 107 point whatever, Traci and I split another salad with chicken and at night, I went on the treadmill and ran for 20 minutes with my sweats on.  After a good sweat, I tried to just drink little sips of water until the morning.  Kim had a scale so I went next store so we could check our weight.  I was 106lbs even.  Kim was 129lbs, way under what she needed to be.  Relieved, we went to the weigh ins.  I saw Angela on line with her family and coach there to support her.  She was was so laid back.  What will she be like to fight?  I stood next to Angela and waited on line for my turn.  My nerves got my stomach churning, sent me to the ladies room and when I returned to weigh in, I was 105.4lbs on the scale.  Boom! (drop mic)

Yay!  Kim and I were victorious in making weight!

At lunch, I ate Susan's hamburger bun, my fish tacos, and Traci's pita she had left over.  Bread never tasted so good.  I asked Susan what I should do if Angela was not very good.  What if she just didn't bring it? She was so sweet and laid back.  Would I have the heart to really take it to her?  With her family there watching?  Susan said, "It's your responsibility to bring the fight.  The ref will stop it if it gets too rough.  Don't worry if she thinks this is just a family vacation.  It's not.  It's a fight." She was right, if I respected her, I would bring it no matter what happened. It was only fair to both of us and God knows, no one ever took it easy on me in a fight.

The Fight

I can't even say how grateful I was that Susan was there to wrap my hands and that Traci stayed with me for my warm up.  The support was so necessary.  Nerves were bubbling up inside and I was somewhat numb.  Once again, as my hands were getting wrapped I wondered, "Why the hell am I doing this?  This is definitely the last time."  I have thought that 9 times now.

As I went to the bathroom for my fifth pee, I saw Angela hitting pads outside in the front with her coach.  I suspected she didn't want me to see her.  She was hitting hard and fast with a lot of energy and great technique. My heart sped up and I started sweating.  I don't think it was a hot flash this time, just nerves.


I went back and told Susan and Traci what I had seen.  I assured myself that everyone looks good when they are hitting pads.  (At least people who are good)  They agreed and told me to concentrate on my own game.  Traci and I moved around.  I had her charge at me so I could practice dealing with a charger.

Kim's fight was on before mine so I took a break from warming up and cheered her on. Six feet tall, lanky and strong.  She boxed her girl with nice movement, kept her back with the jab, hit her with powerful right hands and easily won the fight.  Somehow it was a split decision, but I am still figuring out how they judge these things.

Then, it was my turn.  Susan and Traci walked me to the ring and I got inside. My heart was pumping, but my nerves weren't as bad as the last time for some reason.  Maybe because the girl wasn't a personal trainer/weight lifter who was 8lbs heavier like last time. They announced Angela who got in the ring and raised her hand like she had done it a million times, and then they announced me.  I also raised my hand, playing the part of a boxer who wins.  In the middle, we touched gloves and went back to our corners.

My intention was to practice being calm, feel her out and fight my fight.  When the bell rang, she immediately charged at me and pushed me to the ropes.   I got out of it and started boxing her.  Moving around, making her miss and coming back.  She was a force to be reckoned with and any thoughts of taking it light went out of my head as she came at me.  I came right back at her.  I wanted to punch her as hard as I could with my right hand so she would think twice about coming in.  Uncharacteristically, I brawled, pushing her back with punches and force. "Nobody puts baby in a corner," was an actual thought that went through my head.  In fact, at one point, I accidentally pushed her down.  In the movie screen of my mind, I remembered seeing sparring sessions and fights where the other person was able to push me around and I was not going to let that happen.  Especially, since in the amateurs, they usually award the aggressor.

After the first round, Susan and Traci told me to breathe. Susan was grinning and telling me I won that round but not to brawl.  Box. That is what I do best.  My coach, Rich, called Susan earlier to tell her not to tell me to put my hands up.  For some reason, I breathe easier when my left is down blocking my body and my right is used to block punches and throw hard.  Not sure why that stance speaks to me, but it does.



For the next two two minute rounds, I boxed and moved and sometimes pushed back.   I ate more punches than usual since I was choosing to mix it up.  There was definitely an uppercut in there that I felt! I landed a few good right hands that sent her head way back and whenever they landed, she would laugh hysterically!  The little fighter in me vowed to keep her laughing.

She aggressively put me in a corner, I turned her and put her in the corner throwing non-stop punches.  Ugly, but effective, I suppose for the amateurs.  In the last round, we were both feeling a bit tired, but fought our hearts out.  At the end of the round, I was getting upset with myself for feeling the fatigue and yelled when I threw my right hand as if to force myself to keep going. At that moment, the bell rang.  Fight over.  Big hug to Angela.  What a warrior.  Toughest unassuming mom I ever met.

Susan and Traci were grinning ear to ear.  As they were taking off my headgear and mouthpiece, they said I did what they told me to do.  I listened and dropped body shots when they said, moved around, doubled the right.  Whatever they said, I did.  I was hoping for a good outcome.  No matter who's hand was raised, I actually felt like I fought a good fight.

When they announced my name as the winner, I was so happy and relieved.  For anyone who knows where I came from and how I started, winning the National Golden Gloves, even for the Masters Division did not look like it was ever in the cards for me.  Even though I had more fights than Angela, my confidence was not there the way it should be.  I told Angela she was a tough MFer, hugged her again, got my medal and left the ring.  My friend, Malissa Smith, a writer from New York who had seen my film and knows how far I have come, hugged me and complimented my skills.  I said something self effacing and she assured me that she saw skills in there.  Again, I know it wasn't a beautiful fight, but I did do a lot of things right in the heat of the moment.  It was better than the last one against a challenging opponent.  Any time I improve is a win.  My rule is if this fight is better than the last fight, then you won.  I hope Angela sees it as a win as well.

Overall, the whole trip was a win because I got to fight, meet amazing women, work the corners of Traci and Kim for their competitive fights, bond with weirdos like myself, and gain just a little more confidence in myself as a fighter and as a coach.  My run of training hard and fighting is coming to an end for now, as I need to concentrate on my film work; but I will keep doing light sparring and stay in decent shape for my mental health, as well as coaching others.  Please reach out if you want to learn to box.  It's the best thing ever.


Watch Fight Like a Girl if you want to see my very modest beginnings!




2 comments:

  1. It was an amazing journey! We met some amazing women, and had a great fight! Wonderful recap of our adventure! A must do again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was an amazing journey! We met some amazing women, and had a great fight! Wonderful recap of our adventure! A must do again!

    ReplyDelete