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The contender: Megan Gerson '00 was looking for a way to fill the long winter when she wandered into the Fairbanks, Alaska, boxing club.  Her e-mails home tell the rest
. photo of Megan Gerson '00


BY MEGAN GERSON

PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY WAYNE GILBERT


WED, 18 OCT 2000
Hello Everyone,
I have taken up a new activity to keep me moving during the long winter. Boxing. I train for a couple of hours every day after work at the Fairbanks Boxing Club. Training is intense and difficult, but apparently I am doing well, because I will be competing in my first official fight a week from Saturday. Yes, I know I'm crazy.

I am scheduled to box a 26-year-old woman from the Yukon Territory. It will be her first fight, as well. I'll let you know how it goes.

MON, 30 OCT 2000
I WON!!!! I got in that ring on Saturday night in front of over a thousand people, in the only female fight on a 15-fight card, scared out of my mind, and I WON!

Let me tell you what it was like. For over two weeks, I trained hard every day. I cut fat, alcohol, caffeine, carbs, and everything else that is fun and indulgent out of my diet. I hit the heavy bag, the speed bag, and did more crunches than I have in my whole life. I was in shape and I was ready.

On Saturday morning I had a physical and was weighed in with my male teammates. While we waited, we watched the red, white, and blue ring, supplied by USA Boxing, being set up. George Foreman fought in that very ring as an amateur.

I returned Saturday night to the gym only to find that my fight was going to be scratched--there was too big a weight differential. If I didn't lose three pounds and the girl I was supposed to fight didn't gain four pounds in the next hour, we would not be allowed to fight. I don't know what turned on inside of me, but I knew I had to fight, so I lost three pounds in an hour. I threw up, spat, ran inside with sweats and hats and mittens, and got rid of everything that I could. My opponent drank bottles and bottles of water. We made the official weigh-in, then we both had a couple of hours to recuperate before stepping into the ring.

Mine was the 12th fight of the night, one of the final fights leading up to the main event: the face-off between the Number One and Number Three junior superheavyweights in the country. I got my hands wrapped, put on my headgear, groin and kidney protector, mouth protector, chest protector (a wonderful hard plastic bra that only female boxers have to wear), and slipped on my shiny blue Fairbanks uniform; someone tied up my gloves. As I stood in my corner, my coach kept reminding me that it was "just another day in the gym." The bell rang, and the first round began.

I fought three two-minute rounds, and to tell you the truth, most of it is a blur. I remember getting hit so hard in the chin with a right cross that I couldn't believe I was still standing. But I had so much adrenaline at that point that people in the audience didn't even know the other fighter had connected. I faced her punches and rolled with them.

By the end of the first round, I didn't know how I was going to make it. It is a scary thing being in that ring and knowing that getting beaten up is totally within the realm of possibility. But I saw that she was tired too, and in the second round, I connected my straight-punch combinations with an energy I didn't know I possessed. I hit her with a 1-2-1, and as she tried to sidestep away, I followed her around the ring, using my combinations until my arms couldn't do it anymore. By the end of the second round, we were both fighting with bloody noses. I had caused a standing 8-count in the second round, and I did it again in the third. The crowd was wild. I knew hardly anyone there, but people were screaming my name all over the gym. It was the support of the crowd that took me through the third round until my opponent and I were saved by the bell.

When the judges announced that I had won the fight, the crowd exploded into a standing ovation. As I was climbing down the stairs from my corner, a woman sitting at ringside stood up and screamed, "You go, girl!" and jumped up and down. For the rest of the night, people kept approaching me, congratulating me, asking me for an autograph. I'm not kidding. Everyone kept telling me that I had clearly won, that I had beaten her badly, but I don't remember that. All I remember is wanting to make it out of that ring with my nose in the same spot as it has always been.

I came out of the bout relatively unscathed: a bloody nose, a fat lip, and some bruises on and under my chin where her cross connected with my face. It was hard and scary, and my face still hurts, but it was an unbelievable, euphoric feeling. The first-ever female champion of the Fairbanks Smokeout Amateur Boxing Tournament is alive and well!

FRI, 05 JAN 2001
My next bout is scheduled for mid-February. In the meantime, I continue to train four to five days a week in a sweaty, testosterone-filled gym, working to improve my left hook.

My coach, bless his heart, is still a bit surprised to be training women to compete. He has a kind of unexpected pride, and says things to visitors and newcomers to the gym like: "You see her over there? When she's outside, she's just a regular girl. But when she walks through those doors, she becomes a boxer." When I am doing well on my pad drills with him, sometimes he just stops and laughs. Not in a condescending way, but more out of delight. Perhaps I should fuss about being called a "girl," but I am the first woman who's ever competed for Fairbanks, and for now I will let my combinations do the talking.

FRI, 16 MAR 2001
There was a boxing tournament in Anchorage, so my team traveled the 360 miles down the Parks Highway. During the ride, I had one of those moments when one realizes that life is a hilarious and unpredictable gift. There I was in a 15-passenger van filled for the most part with high-school-aged boys, surrounded by the monumental beauty of the Alaska Range, listening to the "Rocky IV" soundtrack.

I didn't get a bout that night--there were no women in my weight class. However, the other two women on my team had their first fights, so I was there to help them prepare (I'm considered a veteran after my October fight, I guess). Now the Fairbanks team has three female veterans--quite an accomplishment for a boxing club.

MON, 19 MAR 2001
I have no idea when my next fight will happen. It's twice as hard to find a match now that I have a victory under my belt. For a lot of women, getting in the ring to compete for the first time takes some coaxing (I know it did for me), and word that a potential opponent has any victories at all can be intimidating.

And there are simply no women in my weight class. I usually weigh in at 158. (Here's an unexpected side effect of boxing: geting used to telling the truth about how much I weigh and actually being okay with it.) If I can get myself in the low 150s, I'll have a better chance of finding matches with some of the smaller fighters in the 140s.

WED, 23 MAY 2001
The military had their smoker in February, and they brought down their women to spar in preparation for their bouts. All of them began boxing for the sole purpose of competing in the Army tournament, so their technique and form weren't all that great. But they were in stellar shape, they were aggressive, and some of them hit like a truck. One sparring match in particular, against a tall, thick woman who easily outweighed me by 15 pounds, was pretty terrifying. I had just come back to the gym after a week of being laid up in bed with a horrible flu. My coach put me in with her for just one round, warning me that she hits "like a mule" with her right, but that I would be able to see it coming.

I spent the entire round slipping rights that skimmed my headgear with a whoosh I had never heard before. It was true, you could see them coming for a mile, but I knew that if even one of them landed, I would have likely wound up on the canvas. I remember getting out of the ring and wanting to cry. My flu-damaged body was screaming at me.

My coach came over to where I was sitting and told me that day that I was a real boxer, because I had put everything aside and got in there and did what needed to be done.

So I may not get a fight every week, but I have my share of challenges. That woman wound up winning the Army tournament--I guess the other women didn't learn defense.

I'm beginning a new training schedule: Three days of weight training a week, worked into two-hour-long practices. Lots of bag work, counterpunching drills, and a two-mile run at the end of every practice.

FRI, 10 AUG 2001
I got knocked to my knees for the first time this summer. I was in the ring with my assistant coach doing a counterpunching drill--kind of like sparring, only with a set sequence of punches, so you pretty much know what's coming at you. Well, even though in my mind I knew that a left hook was coming to my ribs, my body clearly forgot, and I didn't protect myself. One pop--not even full force--into my rib cage and I literally fell to my knees in the ring as if I were going to give praise to the great boxing god. And the tears came immediately, not because I was upset, or even in that much pain, but more as a physiological reaction--as if he had laid that hook right into my tear ducts.

Now, nothing will make you feel more like a sissy than tears in the ring, so I got up as fast as I could and asked if we could keep going, please. The guys standing around the ring taunted my coach for beating on a girl. Although the guys in the gym respect me, they still have a hard time hitting me. It's a strange combination: True respect as a woman boxer is often marked by the fact that a man is no longer afraid to hit you, meaning that when I get the respect I yearn for, I feel it by way of a body blow that puts me on the canvas.

MON, 24 SEP 2001
This summer, the roughhouse boxers made their way into town. People kept asking me if I was fighting over at Cheap Charlie's, one of a few local bars that sponsors brawls. And after a while, I had to laugh, as I realized that most people have no concept of the difference between what I train to do and brawling in a back alley. I suppose that's why people are surprised that I box. They don't know that the sport of boxing isn't really all that gory or crude. That it's about timing, and movement, and agility. That in many ways, it's like dancing, and when it's done right, it looks like superb choreography.

WED, 14 NOV 2001
Something great has been going on in our gym lately. There are now about seven women who train consistently at the Fairbanks Boxing Club. One of them, Pearl, a Fairbanks police officer, is at a tournament right now, and we were able to prep her by putting her in the ring, round after round, with five or six different women. We are all going to improve, because the diversity will make us better boxers.

It's funny to look around the gym and see women outnumbering men some days. Our presence is a constant now, and that makes it a whole lot easier to simply go to the gym and train hard--all any boxer really wants to do.

Fighting in Fairbanks,

Megan

Megan Gerson '00 has been a Jesuit Volunteer and Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Interior AIDS Association in Fairbanks, Alaska, since August 2000.

Photo: Gerson: "The sport of boxing isn't really all that gory or crude."


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