'I Am A Boxer': Fighter In The Ring, Lady Outside It

fromWNYC

  • Franchon Crews applies her lipstick backstage before her championship fight at the USA National Tournament in Colorado in June 2011. She won. "I'm not doing it for the camera. I got my team, my city, but at the end of the day, it's me in there. It's me."
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    Franchon Crews applies her lipstick backstage before her championship fight at the USA National Tournament in Colorado in June 2011. She won. "I'm not doing it for the camera. I got my team, my city, but at the end of the day, it's me in there. It's me."
    Photos by Sue Jaye Johnson
  • "I'm a very flamboyant person," Franchon says. "I'm the girl with the big personality so when I speak you are going to listen. I hope to use that to change the world and change people's lives."
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    "I'm a very flamboyant person," Franchon says. "I'm the girl with the big personality so when I speak you are going to listen. I hope to use that to change the world and change people's lives."
  • Franchon was a contestant on American Idol. She swore that if she didn't make history singing, she was going to do it boxing. She is ranked No. 1 in the country. Here, she entertains her teammates at a tournament. "I'm not going to let anybody stop me.  Boxing is part of my life, it's not my life."
    Hide caption
    Franchon was a contestant on American Idol. She swore that if she didn't make history singing, she was going to do it boxing. She is ranked No. 1 in the country. Here, she entertains her teammates at a tournament. "I'm not going to let anybody stop me. Boxing is part of my life, it's not my life."
  • Franchon, in red, trades punches at the International Duel in Oxnard, Calif., in November 2011. "I'm a champion in life, so that's what gets me through."
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    Franchon, in red, trades punches at the International Duel in Oxnard, Calif., in November 2011. "I'm a champion in life, so that's what gets me through."
  • Mikaela Mayer is one of eight women competing for the lightweight title. "I like the fact that I'm feminine outside on the streets and I may not seem like a boxer, but really I am a boxer, and I have that side to me. I can be a woman and an aggressive athlete."
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    Mikaela Mayer is one of eight women competing for the lightweight title. "I like the fact that I'm feminine outside on the streets and I may not seem like a boxer, but really I am a boxer, and I have that side to me. I can be a woman and an aggressive athlete."
  • Mikaela won her final bout at the Golden Gloves National Tournament to secure her place in the Olympic Trials. She says she was a "bad kid" growing up — until she started spending Friday and Saturday nights at the gym.
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    Mikaela won her final bout at the Golden Gloves National Tournament to secure her place in the Olympic Trials. She says she was a "bad kid" growing up — until she started spending Friday and Saturday nights at the gym.
  • Tiara Brown says guys in the gym get jealous of her body. "I have abs of steel. And then I have these sexy, luscious lips. And then I've got these guns on my arms. I'm a boxer, and I'm a girl boxer."
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    Tiara Brown says guys in the gym get jealous of her body. "I have abs of steel. And then I have these sexy, luscious lips. And then I've got these guns on my arms. I'm a boxer, and I'm a girl boxer."
  • Tiara weighs in the morning of a fight. Boxers cannot be over the weight limit, or they will be disqualified.
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    Tiara weighs in the morning of a fight. Boxers cannot be over the weight limit, or they will be disqualified.
  • Tiara at the International Duel in Oxnard last year. "Boxing makes me believe that I can do anything. I feel like boxing is in my blood. When I am not boxing, I feel like a part of me is missing. I am in love with it. I could be married to boxing."
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    Tiara at the International Duel in Oxnard last year. "Boxing makes me believe that I can do anything. I feel like boxing is in my blood. When I am not boxing, I feel like a part of me is missing. I am in love with it. I could be married to boxing."
  • Bertha Aracil is one of 24 women who will be competing for three spots on the first U.S. Women's Olympic Boxing Team. "Boxing is not a soft sport. I don't believe it's a violent sport, but it's not a soft sport. You gotta have guts to go in the ring and throw a punch and receive one."
    Hide caption
    Bertha Aracil is one of 24 women who will be competing for three spots on the first U.S. Women's Olympic Boxing Team. "Boxing is not a soft sport. I don't believe it's a violent sport, but it's not a soft sport. You gotta have guts to go in the ring and throw a punch and receive one."
  • Bertha fights N'yteeyah Sherman at the Police Athletic League Tournament in October 2011. "You gotta think before you throw a punch. You can't be angry. When I'm in the ring, I'm thinking all the time, 'How can I beat this person and win?' I'm relaxed and I'm looking for my opponent's mistake. As soon as she makes a mistake, then I'll take advantage and get her."
    Hide caption
    Bertha fights N'yteeyah Sherman at the Police Athletic League Tournament in October 2011. "You gotta think before you throw a punch. You can't be angry. When I'm in the ring, I'm thinking all the time, 'How can I beat this person and win?' I'm relaxed and I'm looking for my opponent's mistake. As soon as she makes a mistake, then I'll take advantage and get her."
  • Bertha often travels to tournaments with her infant niece and nephew, and tends to them between fights.
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    Bertha often travels to tournaments with her infant niece and nephew, and tends to them between fights.
  • Bertha loves to cook for her large Cuban family. "Cooking relaxes me, it makes me happy."
    Hide caption
    Bertha loves to cook for her large Cuban family. "Cooking relaxes me, it makes me happy."
  • Julia Irman won the German National Championship three weeks after giving birth to her son. Here, she poses with a young fan. "In a couple years, I want to have another child. A girl. A boxer like me."
    Hide caption
    Julia Irman won the German National Championship three weeks after giving birth to her son. Here, she poses with a young fan. "In a couple years, I want to have another child. A girl. A boxer like me."

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Part of a series with WNYC on female boxers

This summer in London, female boxers will compete in the Olympics for the first time. The women competing for a spot on the U.S. team will make history, but few know who they are — and why they box.

Women who box love it for the same reasons men do. Boxing requires intense physical and psychological discipline, the ability to overcome fear and anger.

"I think boxing is therapeutic. It keeps you under control," says Bertha Aracil, an amateur boxer.

The 29-year-old lives in the Bronx, loves to cook and is part of a big family of Cuban immigrants. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Aracil wears jeans, boots and a white undershirt, but on Facebook, she looks as gorgeous and comfortable in a bikini.

As a teenager, Aracil was the pit bull. Like a lot of guys who box, she was a street fighter first, until she got locked up for five years.

"Before I started boxing, I thought you have to be in the ring and be angry to actually win. ... You can actually be calm and happy and win," she says. "That's what I like about boxing, because I can't believe I can actually fight in the ring and think. When you beat somebody, you're better than them. That's what's satisfying [to] me."

Women Step Into The Ring

Any good boxer derives that kind of satisfaction. What's different for a woman? She's taking on a challenge no one expects her to attempt.

"I think women are one of the fiercest competitors there are, but they've been taught to suppress a lot of things," says coach Gloria Peek with USA Boxing. "It's not ladylike to do this."

In a California boxing gym, Peek helps train a diverse group of fighters that Aracil will have to beat in order to make the U.S. Olympic team. Peek started boxing in the 1970s, against many odds.

"My mother dressed me up so pretty in these little dresses and everything like that, and I'd come home with my dress torn, bleeding and all that because I'd been in a fight," she says.

Her mother would tell her it was ladylike to be afraid and not fight.

"Why? Nobody has an intelligent answer," Peek says.

Now she calls boxing the last great domain of men.

"I think of it as like the gladiators and the immortals and the gods — that was always men. And now all of a sudden women have stepped into it," Peek says.

Aggressive And Sweet

Women like Mikaela Mayer have come forward. Mayer will compete against Aracil to represent the U.S. At 132 pounds, she's tall, with cover-girl looks, and says she wears heels as often as possible.

"I like the fact that I'm feminine outside the ring and on the streets, and I may not seem like a boxer but really I am a boxer, and I have that side to me," Mayer says. "I can be a woman, and I can be an aggressive athlete."

Tiara Brown is another opponent for Aracil.

"I want to be treated like the guys are treated — like a boxer. I don't want special treatment because I'm a girl," Brown says.

On the other hand, "for one, I have a big old juicy booty, and it's shaped like a cherry. I have abs of steel. And then I have these sexy, luscious lips. And I've got these guns on my arms. I'm a boxer, and I'm a girl boxer."

Aracil says she loves watching women box in the ring.

"I think that's real sexy," she says. "To go in the ring and switch up and be strong and take punches and receive them, it's showing me my strong side ... my fearless side. Nothing soft when I'm in the ring. I can be in there and be aggressive and fight, and get out of there and be sweet."

Mayer, Brown and Aracil will compete against each other and five other women to fight in the lightweight division on the U.S. Olympic team.

This story was produced with Sue Jaye Johnson, whose photo essay about women boxers appears in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

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