Boxing Helps Women Of All Ages Knock Out Stress, Build Confidence

by Susanne Boitano
Steven King Photography

Once the realm of brawling titans ke Al and Tyson, boxing is becoming popular with women on both professional and amateur levels, even in the Bay State. Historically, evidence of the “fair sex” and boxing is faint: questionable accounts from the 1700s, novelty acts circa 1800s, then “demo” sport in the 1902 Olympics. The 1950s witnessed a brief televised heyday of women’s boxing courtesy of celebrity haymaker Barbara “Mighty Atom of the Ring” Buttrick, but then was followed by the regrettable “foxy” version of the late 1970s. However, over the last 15 years, interest and support for legitimate women’s boxing is on the rise in international venues and neighborhood gyms, 2012 will see female pugilism debut at the Landon Olympics. And it’s about time!

To understand what all the fuss and fighting is about, baystateparent headed out to Striking Beauties, a 24-hour, all-female, all-ages boxing gym located in North Attleboro, Massachusests. Inspired and emboldened by a love of boxing and a desire to offer first-class instruction, attorney and mom, Dena Pastino-Sarcia, opened the new style of gym in 2010 to cater to females exclusively. Her business partner, head coach and Director of Boxing is four-time, world boxing champion, Jamie “The Hurricane” Clampitt, also a mother. With its classic pink and black interior and refined touches, Striking Beauties is where women come our of the corner of their lives and take a swing. But what exactly attracts moms and daughters to the bags, the gloves, the endless amounts of jumping rope? And more importantly, can these ladies keep the “sweet” in the “sweet science?”

I Really Wanted to Punch Something

While she enjoyed sharing the sport with her dad as a child, Mary Morgan of Cumberland, Rl, never imagined herself boxing. She’d done a little kickboxing, but came to the point in her life where she “really wanted to punch something.” The solid, pleasant-faced mother got the chance to hit the bags and now feels like a champ. “1 was so excited and scared since I’m not in shape. But I got hooked! My goal was just to lose weight, but then it grew to something more. Its a hobby now. On top of exercise, I watch it on TV and £0 to fights. What I like is that you don’t have to be perfectly fit to be good at the skills. It gives you the confidence to keep walking in and trying it.”

With three contenders in the family (daughters Marietta and Sophia also don gloves), does it make her a better mother? Morgan is emphatic, “Oh, God, ya! It’s made me healthier and stronger, but it also really helps get the stress out. You leave the gym feeling accomplished, so you can go home and handle something that happened in school or whatever problem the kids might have.” Clearly, boxing scored her a winning combination for parenting.

I Feel More Confident

Is Morgan’s praise for boxing the effects of punch drunkenness? Could all the weaving, shuffling, jabbing and feigning be a cure-all for the mommy blues? We asked Yale Department of Psychiatry lecturer and psychotherapist Binnie Klein, author of Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind: “With boxing, I tend to find women are more interested in experiencing their personal best, not necessarily measuring who is the thinnest or who has the hest legs at the gym, but can you hang in there for three-minute rounds? That will make you feel pretty high and good about yourself. In my research with professional and amateur women’s boxing, it’s nothing les than transformational. They begin to say things like, ‘I feel move confident” and ‘I feel more powerful.” Often, it’s something they can’t always put into words, but they know it; there’s a difference between before boxing – and after boxing.”

Those sentiments certainly echoed with Paoline-Sarcia. After “not getting the time of day” from pro trainers, the elegant and athletic Striking Beauties’ boss decided for create a more supportive and more community-oriented training and sparring gym just for women. “To me, if you haven’t gotten in the ring and sparred, you just don’t have that real understanding; that’s why we get the best, like Jamie.” The results speak for themselves in scores of comments she receives, in person or via email, from satisfied customers, such as “greatest workout ever” and “improved my self-esteem.” Saye Paolino Sarcia, “The most common remark is, ‘It’s changed my life!’ The women feel better mentally and physically; it’s a reoccurring theme.” While not every gym houses a medal winner, results like these are typical for women’s classes across the country. Kickboxing doesn’t quite cut it anymore, Women want more from their sport.

I'm Glad She Feels She
can Stick up for Herself

But what of the young generation of strikers? We rete to the battling Morgans and asked Mary’s daughter, 12-year-old Marietta Morgan, who started a year ago after her mom signed her up, what she gets out of the sport. The most difficult thing, she says, is the warm-up exercises, but Marietta is already wholeheartedly recommending boxing class to her friends. “I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but now I can do a lot more stuff and things are easier for me. I feel better about myself because I feel stronger; I’m more energized, move fit.” The younger Morgan, whose career ambitions range from pro boxer to fashion designer, takes this new found confidence to the real world, i.e. the school yard. “When I see my friends getting picked on, I now know how to defend other people. Trouble isn’t an issue with me.” Her favorite combination? Jab, cross hook, uppercut.

In her corner, Marietta’s mom comments with pride in her voice: “I’m glad she feels she can stick up for herself and her friends if she had to. She would never… but I’m glad she feels that way and it’s because of boxing, whenever she walks out of there, she feels good.”

A boxer’s workout, with its vigorous emphasis on speed, strength, stamina, coordination and unwavering focus seems to beat down the internalized culturized perception of feminine helplessness prevalent today. Perhaps Hello Kitty had better learn to keep her hands up or risk taking one in the whiskers. Self-defense chops not withstanding, releasing aggression is a powerful catharsis, and doing it in a safe, sanctioned environment like the boxing ring is one of the best ways to show women (young and old) how to rise to a challenge, again and again.

From her weekly music and interview radio show on WPKN, Klein often deals with the subject of gender ID. “Males are encouraged to be more physical” ‘Go beat that guy up!’ They deal with aggression at a much earlier age. When given the support and skills, women can express their frustrations and feel their power as well. And they don’t always have to be so careful. There are a lot of young women in this world who are playing it safe, they’re not going to make any mistakes, they’re not going to blow it. Boxing teaches them it’s OK, that aggression and competition are linked. We’re not going to die from it. Having a place for that for young women is so valuable.”

I Love Training Women

Finally, baystateparent checked in with Jamie “The Hurricane” Clampitt, whose powder blue satin champion’s robe hangs proudly by the doors at Striking Beauties. Lovely, tough and deeply dedicated to teaching women to be the best fighters they can be, Clampitt credits training with making her a better fighter and mother. She says, “You have to be mentally strong and mentally tough. Being a mother isn’t always easy. There is a lot of uncertainty, lots of nerves, and just having that time at a gym, where you know you can come in and hit the bag and feel good about yourself accomplishing something – that’s important.”

Clampitt, who isn’t ruling out a comeback, has confidence in this new day in women’s boxing, “I love training women because they work really hard. In this sport, they have to prove something not only to themselves, but to everybody. Most girls are boxing in a male-dominated gym. I think any women who is in the gym has high standards for herself and a great work ethic or they don’t last.”

Sugar and spice and everything nice aside, boxing seems to be gaining momentum as a sweet addition to women’s lives.

“Susanne Boitano is a mother and freelance writer who will do most anything to get the story, including taking a boxing class or two. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts with her Family.”