Finding my confidence through boxing

‘Fight like a girl’

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian (2017)

By Amaya Morris, Collegian Correspondent

When my dad first taught me how to hit a speedbag, he would subtly flex that his young daughter could go to town on one. He thought it was so impressive that he would ultimately upload it on YouTube only for it to gain about 100 likes. 9 year old me would have never known that this random skill would later lead me to joining my university’s boxing club my first semester on campus.

My first day with the University of Massachusetts Boxing Club was a bit intimidating. I was one of the handful of girls that decided to sign up for the team. I was skeptical of what my experience would be, but I knew I was not one to shy away from being an outlier. I tried to figure out how  inexperienced I would look compared to others. Once practice started, I would learn that the majority of people in the room were just as inexperienced as me, but like myself, had a desire to learn what their body was capable of.

My coach, Rocky Snow, made me feel like I was capable. Snow stood at 5-foot-6 inches tall and had about 50 years of boxing experience. A former marine, he fought professionally for eight years and has the title of a Golden Gloves champion.

Even after telling Snow I had never boxed seriously before, he put time into personally teaching me technique. Using a constructive criticism approach, he would correct every mistake I made, and follow it with a smile once I had gotten it right. At times it felt like he believed in me a little too much, especially when I went out on a limb and took his advice to come to sparring, where I would ultimately be thrown in the ring to gain experience.

My first round was rough, but I figured out that I could take a hit. I had stepped into the ring with a girl who was short, but very strongly built. She looked like she had sparred before, and by the way her hits felt, she must have. By the second round, I started to recollect myself and use technique, which led me to surprise myself and put up an even fight.

I spent my school breaks shadow boxing back home, practicing mitt work with my friend and ending my regular gym lifting sessions by hitting the heavy bag. I felt way more confident with my place on the team and looked forward to the possibility of presenting myself with a serious challenge. I came back from break excited for the opportunity to get more girls to feel confident in their ability to box.

The team recently gained two former UMass Boxing Club members as new coaches, Meiya Berkey and Sean Donnelly, who were both coached under Snow and have years of experience in the sport. Berkey, standing at 4-feet-11 inches, earned her fame in boxing by becoming a two time New England Golden Gloves champion. Donnelly also shares an extensive boxing background, including fighting with the UMass Boxing Club as team captain.

Berkey has been an inspiration for me, as she is an example of a woman who completely broke down barriers and exceeded what many may have assumed she was capable of. She has an impressive record to show for her hard work and dedication to the sport.

I encourage others who are thinking about joining the UMass Boxing Club to give it a chance. You do not need experience to be in the club, and you do not even have to get hit to be a part of it. Whether you want to take yourself to the next level and compete, or if you just want to get a good workout while learning self-defense techniques, there’s a place for everybody.

I hope that other women will use boxing to build their confidence the same way I was able to.

Amaya Morris can be reached at [email protected]