The Women’s National Golden Gloves: Boxing & the Beach!

The Women’s National Golden Gloves tournament, hosted by the folks at Canino’s Karate and Boxing Studio, holds a dear place in my heart. Even though I only went three times, Ft. Lauderdale will always be branded in my memory as the beautiful place where boxing met the beach.

First of all, let me just say that I desperately wish the people putting on this event had had the same kind of resources and support as what goes into the “regular” National Golden Gloves competition for the men. I know boxing is a male-dominated sport—I get it—but I sure wish the women didn’t get short-changed so obviously. Having said that, I appreciate and love everything that Bonnie Canino and Yvonne Reis (and others) did to put on a great event for years!

Why the past tense? On January 4, 2018, USA Boxing’s membership received an email from the executive director stating:

We are excited to recognize that starting this year, National Silver Gloves and Golden Gloves of America including their local franchises will provide females the same opportunity to box as males in local, regional and national tournaments. This will increase more female boxer opportunities and strengthen our sport.

I had heard about this on Facebook from this post, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, this could bring more exposure for the female athletes at a much larger event (with more resources).  However, it could also dry up the competitive opportunities when it’s already so difficult to find matches. It makes sense that women should qualify for nationals just like men do, but it might narrow the field of players and create more walk-over “wins” at each tournament (i.e. you win because there’s no opponent for you).

I do think it’s a step in the right direction, of maybe (possibly) pooling resources to support all the athletes, but I can easily imagine that the women might be stuffed into a corner and denied their share of those resources. (I’m saying this based only on my own experiences and what I’ve observed in local-level competition.) All the same, I’m glad that we’ll have space in the same regional and national events.

But enough of the politics, because nobody asked me! Here are some dear memories of the event while I had the fortune of participating.


WNGG 2014: My First Taste

The first time I attended the Women’s National Golden Gloves (WNGG) in July 2014, I came as a spectator to support two women from our gym who competed. I kept the gym open for the beginning of the week once the team left, and then I closed shop and joined them for the end of the tournament. I caught a late flight to Ft. Lauderdale one Wednesday night and a rental van full of tipsy friends picked me and my watermelon up at the airport.

Wait, what? I brought a whole watermelon on the plane with me in my carry-on. Why? Well, Terri asked me to bring it, so I did. Amidst the laughter, she explained that she forgot to tell me she’d been joking. So that’s how I carried a watermelon to Florida, which we never ate and, instead, drew a happy face on.

I only got to see one of our two boxers’ bouts. When it was time for her to fight, we walked from our hotel room to one of the hotel ballrooms and set up camp in the hallway for her warm-up. (The following year, all boxers and coaches had to stay outside. I think our noisy warm-up was part of the reasoning for this…) I kept straying inside to watch some of the matches, but Terri always called me back into the hall to support the team. I understood that, but I also really wanted to watch the fights.

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Nothing sweeter than this.

Our girl won her match, though it was allegedly so boring that one of our guys stopped filming it half-way through. (We teased her about that, but we also called him out for being a jerk.) After her fight, we stuck around to see a quick TKO and then we were outta there. That was all I got to see of the Women’s National Golden Gloves that year, and I was quite disappointed. We spent the rest of the long weekend partying and going to all the beaches in the area. I enjoyed that, but I definitely wanted to see the finals at the end of the week. Looking back, I should have stayed behind to go to the fights by myself.

Because of some intense drama among us, this was actually the most tension-fraught vacation I’ve ever been on. The trip culminated in one terrifying car ride where all seven or eight of us piled into a van driven by a totally drunk person. You know what’s really scary? The idea that one person can seize so much power in a group that the group would rather risk their lives than confront someone to take away the keys. We even had a “conference” in the car when the driver got out at a gas station, trying to decide who should take the keys. We settled on nobody, because we were too scared to upset this person. What does that say about the driver, and what does it say about the rest of us?

Regardless, the negative personal problems didn’t mar my picture of the WNGG event at all. I couldn’t wait to come back and compete the following year, because I liked what I saw!


WNGG 2015: Dive In!

I registered immediately when the 2015 tournament dates were announced. I had wanted to enter as a novice for my first go-round in a national tournament, but I had gone open in my previous match and couldn’t compete as a novice anymore. I entered the WNGG 2015 as an elite 119-pounder for my 9th fight. I was nervous about who I might meet in the ring, but I was still pumped.

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We woke up early on July 5th and gathered in the gym parking lot to pack ten people’s bags into three vehicles. Combine vacation bags with boxing gear, and you’re looking at cars packed to the brim. On the way south, we made our notorious stop at a gas station on the turnpike to weigh ourselves. We took turns weighing right on the sidewalk in our underwear and bras. (I’m surprised we didn’t get thrown out…) I absolutely love road trips and had a blast all the way.

Once we got to the hotel, we checked our weights again and I headed to bed without dinner. The folks who weren’t fighting did their obligatory “WE’RE HERE!” shenanigans and didn’t get to sleep until 4:45 am (which means I didn’t, either).

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When we saw the brackets at the rules meeting on Monday night, I was disappointed by the turnout. Fewer boxers registered than I’d hoped, but at least there were three in my weight class: one who was on the US national team, one who was ranked in the top ten and myself. (One of these is not like the others…) At the draw, it was determined that I would fight Virginia Fuchs on Wednesday in the semi-final. I had met Fuchs earlier that year at the “Clash of Champions” (which was an event we hosted at BFC pitting our national women’s team against China’s). The following year, Fuchs qualified for the 2016 US Olympic Team but failed to qualify internationally for the actual Olympics.

Most of our days before the fights were spent running quick errands, eating strict rations (think scrambled egg whites with half a banana), and napping and chatting and chilling in the hotel room while Terri and the boys were out on the beach. These were my favorite times! I enjoyed watching the fights on Tuesday and I grew increasingly excited about my own fight.

The morning of my fight (7/8/2015), I weighed in naked at exactly 118.0 lbs. Our scale in the hotel said 119.0, so I stripped down because I was scared the official scale might read heavier and disqualify me if I hit 119.1. Turns out, there was no need to worry. They paired us up in line at the weigh-in, so I waited next to Fuchs. She recognized me from the Clash of Champions event mentioned above and emphasized that she hadn’t known my name and wondered who she was fighting. Ha! I was out of my league, but I wasn’t scared and I couldn’t wait to get in there.

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Fight Time!

I re-watched this fight to see if my memory had changed with the years, and I’m still proud of my performance. I didn’t have the skill or experience to take control, but I was relentless. In the first round, I charged forward and got hit too much. When I got a standing eight-count, the referee’s attitude toward me felt condescending and I suspect it’s because I was new. I let him know that I was fine to continue and I finished the round looking like an annoying (but hittable) thing that wouldn’t go away.

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Me in red; Fuchs in blue. (This was my first time fighting a southpaw.) Photo posted to Facebook by Malissa Smith of Girlboxing and A History of Women’s Boxing.

I adjusted for the second round and did better, moving around instead of rushing in one single direction. In fact, I caught her a couple times because I was getting comfortable… and then the ref stopped the fight. I lost by TKO.

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I love this picture, for obvious reasons. Photo posted here; credited to @SchreiterPhoto.

We were puzzled that the ref stopped it in the second round, when I was doing better than in the first. I do appreciate referees erring on the side of caution, and I know I wasn’t going to win. Still, I felt that I would’ve lasted the four rounds without damage and wished I’d had the opportunity to prove it. Either way, I put up a fight and was proud of myself. I performed to the best of my ability at the time against someone with more experience than myself and my previous opponents combined. The important thing is that each fight teaches me something, and this one was nothing but encouragement. Yes, I was disappointed by the stoppage, but it was OK. The other two girls on our team won their matches that day.

Fuchs won the tournament and I walked away with a bronze medal. (I guess that’s the perk of being third of three…) Our bracket with results is here and you can see the rest of the brackets and bout sheets here.

Vacation Time!

You only have to behave until after you’re done fighting! We went home to the hotel room, dropped off our gear and headed for the hotel bar to begin my vacation.

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We went to Hollywood Beach the day after my fight. We walked around, looked at tourist shops, rented bikes and died laughing when one of our guys wiped out on the sidewalk. (You had to be there.) We found really good food at the Taco Spot, with awesome coconut drinks. After that, it was home to hit the fights.

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The next day, we went to Miami and visited 5th St. Gym (holla!) before renting a cabana on South Beach. We laid around, went swimming, took a jet ski tour, ordered drinks and lived the life.

We wanted to watch the finals, so we spent the last day of fights at the hotel: by the pool, playing ping-pong, playing foosball, lounging… (I love the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Hotel!) The induction ceremony for the second class of women into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame was held that night. Terri was being inducted and we were proud! (I’ll write about this experience in a post of its own.) We ran straight from the ceremony to our team’s last fight (a non-tournament bout), and finished with a W.

At the end of the week, of course, it was time to pack up and head home. “Bye until next year!” We piled back in the cars, paid the exorbitant parking fees and made the trek home after an incredible week.

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Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose

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My confidence was high after my seventh fight. After all, I ended a long lay-off with a good win! When our next promotion at the gym rolled around seven months later, we were eager and ready to get another fight with the same girl. BFC and Regimen Classic (a Rhode Island show hoping to expand) teamed up to host the Atlanta Regimen Classic at the gym during Memorial Day weekend 2015. The premise of that show was to highlight up-and-coming fighters, because “all legends started out as amateurs.” The Regimen team did a series of short interviews with some of the fighters, including me. (It’s a little cringe-worthy, but I’m ok with that…)

By this time, we had established production lists so that we could almost put on a show on auto-pilot: the supplies, prep work, volunteer staff, set-up and breaking it down afterwards, plus all the little details in between. It was all ready to go. Still, I put in a 12-hour day on Friday to finish up the Will Call tickets and supervise set-up volunteers while Terri ran around on last-minute errands. It’s a common theme for me: feeling busy and stressed about the production side of the show you’re fighting on isn’t the best scenario, but it’s doable.

At 9 am on Saturday, I weighed in at 120.6 lbs and then hurried to check the gym’s P.O. box to see if the medals for the show had arrived as promised by the supplier. Nope! I came back to the gym an hour later to unlock the front door and there were about fifty people waiting outside on the sidewalk. I remember that we did end up having medals for the fights, but I don’t remember how we got our hands on them.

Me, Terri, David (who won his match!)

David, Abel and I went to Waffle House for lunch and I will always remember this occasion because both guys ordered their meals and then added: “…and double everything.” They had to explain what they meant and convince our astonished (and elderly) waiter that, yes, they really did want that much food. In this small world, that waiter regularly visits the store where I now work and I think about this meal with a smile on my face every single time I see him.

After lunch I dropped the guys back by the gym and then headed home to take a nap. I came back at 3 pm to see the doctor, then went home again. (I lived really close to the gym.)

This was my first open fight.* I’d always planned on getting 10 novice fights before going open, but I changed my mind. In the time since this opponent and I last fought, she’d had enough fights to go open. So to get a match on this show, I could either fight somebody else (slim pickins) or I could go open to make the match with her. So I went open! This didn’t matter so much, but it did end up having a bearing on my tournament after this fight—which I’ll explain later.

I went into this fight with a deserved sense of achievement, but I underestimated my opponent and the focus I’d need. I believe I had more skill. I had won against her before, and I was going to win again. The thing is, there’s no such thing as an easy fight. Especially when you think you’ve already got it in the bag… I didn’t think I could possibly lose.

So, of course, I did.

I lost the decision, and I really don’t remember much about the fight itself. I do remember this: afterwards, Terri said she knew I’d lose and claimed she decided to let me fight as a “lesson.” First of all, that’s crazy-talk, because we never pulled out of a fight in five years (except for the time I fell down a flight of stairs). Secondly, this loss was a lesson about proper preparation, but it was also a lesson about the kind of trainer she was.

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Me in red trunks & my opponent in blue trunks

The loss brought my record to an un-exciting 4-4, and it was my first loss that I knew with absolute certainty that I should’ve won and had only myself to blame. While there’s no easy fight and no guarantees, some fights are definitely harder than others. In general, the ones I’ve lost have been harder than the ones I’ve won. Sometimes (but not always), winning comes with a certain ease that you see printed on gym t-shirts around the boxing community: “Train Hard; Fight Easy.”

Well, for this 8th fight, I didn’t train so hard and I didn’t fight so easy. Don’t mistake me: I didn’t train much less than usual or fight much worse than imaginable, but I didn’t give it everything I had, and that’s what cost me.

On a brighter note, the mother and grandfather of one of the kids I babysat were there cheering me on. I bet they can’t imagine how much that meant to me! The mom took this shot and later gave it to me on canvas as a gift:

They didn’t bring the baby to this fight, but she was able to come to a match when she got older. :)


* In amateur boxing, you start out as a novice and fight only other novices with 10 fights or fewer. You have to go open once you’ve had 10 fights, but you can choose to go open after 5. Once you go open, you can fight almost anybody in your weight class, whether they’ve had 11 fights or 211.

Latin Fight Night: “Dia de los Muertos”

Crazy things have been going on recently (er, in the last two years) that I want to share, but first I’m going to travel back in time to a good memory and the next piece of my story: my 7th fight and one of the funnest shows I’ve been on so far.

On November 1st in 2014, Buckhead Fight Club put on Latin Fight Night: “Dia de los Muertos” and boy was that a fun show! You should’ve seen the gym. The decorations were cool, we had an Aztec warrior walking around, and the place was packed. So fun!

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Stage one of our decoration prep.

This was my second fight in my home gym (I lost last time). It had been eleven months since that loss, and I hadn’t fought anywhere else due to injury. My bout was matched at 119 lbs and I was thrilled to be getting back in the ring!

The point of the show was to feature talented, local Latin boxers in every bout. The problem: my opponent and I were both white girls. Seeing as she’s a tall blonde and I’m a short brunette, my trainer and I decided that I should be considered the “Latina” fighter in our bout. We joked that we’d change my last name to a common Hispanic one, and we picked Sanchez. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t think we would actually do that. What if I offended someone?

I weighed in at exactly 122 pounds, which was the lightest I’d been at that point in time. Abel and I went to Waffle House together for breakfast after that, and then I returned to the gym to help with the last details of the show. The downside of fighting at home is that it can be tough to work the same event you’re fighting on. Every time this happened I always promised myself “I’m not doing this again,” but I always did because I wouldn’t turn down the chance to fight.

Luckily, as any good fight day would, this day included a long nap and multiple episodes of Fresh Prince. When I returned to the gym, I was stoked and ready to go. I hung out in the back room for a while, but before long I went out to the main area because I wanted to be right in the hustle and bustle of fighters and their teams getting ready. This is my favorite time; I love the energy!

When it was time to warm up, I started to freak out because I felt tired and worried about how long it had been since I last fought. Ring MatHalf-way through my warm-up, our ring announcer called everyone’s attention to the ring for a 10-count and silence for Little Juan. Everyone stopped working pads, everyone went quiet and we listened to the bell ring ten slow, sad times. When Terri and I looked back at each other at the end of it, we both had tears in our eyes — and resumed warming up right where we left off. I was about to fight in the ring with Juan’s name on the canvas. Swallow that lump in your throat and do it.

My fight was the fourth bout of the night and the only female fight. First, my opponent was announced and brought to the ring. Then, preceded by the Aztec warrior waving the Mexican flag, I was announced in the red corner, “hailing from Mexico City… Kelsey Sanchez!” I was astonished, but it didn’t throw me off. I later learned that the ones who knew me were laughing at this, while most of the audience was confused–though some believed it. (I was asked for an interview by a Hispanic news source, but that was before I could fake fluent Spanish.) So, Sanchez became my ring name and an inside joke at the same time. As for the fight…

1st Round: So hard! I didn’t throw much, and it wasn’t good. In fact, it was pretty bad.
2nd Round: Better! I threw many more punches and they connected more.
3rd Round: Much better! I could tell that I was rocking her…

During our last round, her hair started coming out of her headgear, so the referee sent her to her corner to fix it. I threw a whole bunch of punches when we resumed fighting to try to take advantage of the situation–the fact that she was frustrated and I was on a roll. Her hair came out again; the ref paused the match again. They were in the corner for what seemed like forever, and I was thinking “Come on, come back out here…” I was feeling great.

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Coolest medal ever! 

At some point that was unclear to me, the ref stopped the fight. I was confused and asked Terri if it was over, so she got confirmation from the ref and removed my gloves. I won by disqualification, which was less than satisfying! I was certain that I was ahead. I could’ve easily lost the first round, but not the second one. The third round was also in the bag, barring a surprising comeback from my opponent in the time left. I felt like I might’ve even had a chance at getting my first win by TKO in that 3rd round. However, a W is nothing to whine about! I had a great time.

aztecI got my picture taken with the Aztec warrior. This is the only picture I have from the night, which is a shame. Another drawback to fighting at home–everyone’s busy working the show! I couldn’t even find my corner after my fight, but I knew they had to move on to Abel, whose fight was after mine. I wandered around the venue for a while before I changed and watched the last of the fights.

When the event was over, clean-up was relatively quick because of the extra hands there to help. However, Terri’s idea of celebrating included a lettuce fight, HA! What a mess. That’s when the drinking and partying started. I finally came home exhausted and already getting sore muscles from the fight. I went to bed with an ice pack at almost four in the morning. Sanchez out!

 

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Ofrenda for Juan set up at the show.