Dancing around the ring at the Staunton Boxing Club, Amy Swope ’06 pounds her coach, Bruce Frank, with a choreographed round of rapid punches on the pads he wears on his hands.
Without her bulky gloves and padded helmet, Swope’s slight frame, well-manicured nails, and subtle makeup don’t distinguish her from her peers as a state titleholder in the amateur boxing arena.
That’s the way she likes it.
“Almost everybody who finds out I’m a boxer has that initial reaction like ‘She’s kidding, right?’” said Swope, who, at 5 feet 2 inches, usually competes in the 125-pound weight class. “My actions in the ring are the best way to prove I’m serious about it.”
She picked up the sport just two years ago and claimed the title of Virginia state champion of the United States Amateur Boxing Association this winter.
Swope was one of three Mary Baldwin students who weighed in for the first time at the Virginia Golden Gloves competition March 13. The state organization is an affiliate of the national amateur boxing league that has produced champions such as Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield and now claims more than 22,000 participants.
Although none of the Mary Baldwin athletes got to throw a single punch — there were no other women registered to fight in their weight classes — the three automatically advance to Golden Gloves sectionals in Norfolk later this month, where they will hopefully have competition.
Swope admits that boxing is not usually the sport of choice for women. After seeing a demonstration at the Staunton Boxing Club with her brother during her first year at Mary Baldwin, she was hooked.“
I was really interested in the intensity it had, how the athletes pushed their limits,” said Swope, an ROTC member who jogs regularly, does strength or aerobics workouts a few times a week and attends boxing practice each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When preparing for a big competition such as her bout Saturday, she steps up her workouts, and, she admits, she sometimes has to cut back on sweets and starches to drop a few pounds.
“Fighting is not the hard part. It’s all the work leading up to it. I want to find my absolute limitations. In the ring, it basically comes down to who has the most heart.”
In addition to her initial interest, Swope found inspiration as a boxer in an unlikely place — a book. She poured over Joyce Carol Oates’ On Boxing and connected with the author’s explanation of the basic differences between male and female boxers.
Her professional role models include former Golden Gloves champion Oscar de la Hoya, who went on to become a world professional champion, and Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali.
Since Swope started at the Staunton Boxing Club, a few other Mary Baldwin students have become regulars. Junior Kate Melson and senior Amy Anthony have been boxing for several months. They will also compete in Golden Gloves matches Saturday in Washington, D.C.
Club coach Bruce Frank initiated ladies’ nights to encourage women to develop their skills. Still, of about 20 regular participants at the club, only five are women, he said.
“A lot of women see boxing as an alternative to going to a health club,” Frank said. “They like it because they can take it to any level. They can aspire to win titles or just use it as a way to get in shape.”
“If I had a choice, I’d have a team that is all women. They listen closely and really study their technique.”Swope balances her boxing regimen with a full course load and two jobs. “ It’s worth going through all of that to be able to box,” she said. “I’ve gained so much confidence in myself. I think most people here are looking to define themselves. Boxing is helping me do that.”