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Boxing pioneers come together for first women’s national championship

July 16, 1997

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ There’s the teen-ager who had to come up with $3,000 to make the trip from Hawaii.

And the Nebraska woman who’s been practicing her jabs on a pillow held up by a rope.

Don’t forget the Florida woman who wants to fight for a national championship _ even though she’s never been in an actual bout.

At the inaugural USA Boxing Women’s National Championships, the stories on the road to Augusta are nearly as compelling as the event itself.

``I would have hitchhiked here,″ said Jimi Chartrand, who didn’t have to go to such drastic lengths when she was able to get a discounted flight from Chicago. ``I told my husband I was going and he said it was OK. He doesn’t argue with me or he knows he’ll get a right hand.″

USA Boxing didn’t recognize female boxers until 1993, and only then after losing a landmark court case. Now, there are more than 800 registered amateurs around the country and the first national championship, a four-day event that begins today in this east Georgia city best known for the Masters golf tournament.

By late Tuesday afternoon, 65 competitors from 25 states and the District of Columbia had registered for the tournament, many believing a woman’s touch is just what boxing needs as it tries to recoup from last month’s Tyson-Holyfield bite _ er, make that fight _ and other assorted fiascoes.

``I think we’re a relief, almost,″ said 19-year-old college sophomore Heather Dunn, who took up boxing this year when her hometown selected as host of the first national championship. ``This is a good time for this tournament, right after the whole Mike Tyson thing.″

Noel Domen, a 17-year-old from Waianae, Hawaii, had to raise $3,000 to travel to Augusta along with her father, David Tangjian, and her coach, Bruce Kawano. Though she’s been boxing for three years, Domen is at the young end of the age scale, which allows competitors as old as 33.

``I am very nervous,″ Tangjian said. ``We don’t know what competition is ... especially since she’s still a baby compared to a lot of these girls.″

At least Domen has some boxing experience. When Patricia Martinez of Miami steps into the ring in the 106-pound division, she’ll be making her debut. ``I’ve been to four or five competitions, but they didn’t have anybody in my weight division,″ the 25-year-old said.

She hopes the fans will be patient with fighters like herself and Dunn, who also will make her boxing debut after making the switch from kick boxing.

``All of us are new in it,″ Martinez said. ``There’s room for a lot of improvement in the boxing. Eventually, we’re all going to be known as boxers _ not as women in boxing.″

Her husband and coach, Carlos Martinez, insists that she’ll be ready for her first bout. ``In my opinion, most women are tougher than men,″ he said. ``They are able to take suffering much better.″

``Yeah, we have the kids,″ his wife said playfully.

Carlos remained serious, nodding his head in agreement. ``Think about that. When they get sick, they never complain. Men are always moaning, saying, `Oh, I don’t feel good.‴

Jody Ferguson, a 21-year-old from Santee, Neb., had never been in a real boxing gym until she worked out Tuesday at the Augusta Boxing Club after a 22-hour drive to Augusta. She was able to shadowbox in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror, spar in a regulation ring, skip rope, fire blows at the punching bags and lift weights.

``This is the first time I’ve actually been in a gym that had all the equipment,″ she said, beaming. ``Back home, all I do is tie up a pillow and just hit that.″

Augusta was the site of the U.S. Olympic boxing trials prior to the Atlanta Games. Now, the city hopes to give female boxers their first major boost toward becoming legitimate Olympic athletes, possibly as soon as the 2004 Games.

``This is the true essence of boxing, the sportsmanship, the hard work, the dedication and the desire,″ said Tom Moraetes, director of the Augusta Boxing Club. ``These women nickeled and dimed their way to get here. There are no sponsors. There are no Don Kings. There are no fancy T-shirts.″

Three-round amateur bouts are only slightly different for women than their male counterparts. The main difference is the length of the rounds: two minutes rather than three.

And, oh yeah, there’s the added burden to prove that women have just as much right to be in the ring as men.

``When we get in that ring, we better damn well know how to work the jab, how to throw uppercuts, how to move, how to pivot, how to bob and weave,″ Chartrand said. ``There’s going to be men out there who think we should go put on a bathing suit and do foxy boxing, forget about this kind of boxing.″

Everyone in Augusta is looking forward to the time when women boxers will be competing for gold medals just like men. For now, they’ll have to be content with the pro-style championship belts that Moraetes purchased for the winners of each weight class.

That’s good enough for Chartrand.

``People usually think I’m insane,″ she said, looking around at the roomful of women boxers working out together. ``Now, it’s like I fit in.″

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