Tyrieshia Douglas: Boxing is My Mother and My Father

The tradition of boxing gyms that offer troubled kids a chance to learn self-control is still alive. But until this past decade, those gyms were populated by boys. That has changed.

This summer, women will box in the Olympics for the first time. In February, 24 fighters compete for three spots on the US Olympic women’s boxing team. Among them: Tyrieshia Douglas of Baltimore. When she was 16, she was arrested for fighting three girls and, the way she remembers it, her juvenile court judge sentenced her to community service and recommended she box. Now she’s 23, 112 pounds, and aiming for a gold medal.

“Boxing is my mother and my father,” she said, drenched in sweat after a taxing workout at her Baltimore gym, Upton Boxing Center where her coach is Calvin Ford. “Boxing is my brother and my sister. Boxing makes love to me. Boxing kisses me. Boxing is the love of my life.”

Douglas has the kind of smile her trainers say every newspaper wants on the front page. She can charm, giggle infectiously and dance like a hip-hop star. Then she steps into the ring and all that drops away.

“Boxing, you can’t be nice,” she says. “I know I’m a woman but, when the bell rings, I’m a monster.”

In Olympic boxing, competitors wear headgear and winning a bout is based more on racking up points than on knocking out your opponent. Accomplished amateur boxer Caroline Barry says when she first started, ten years ago, most of the other women came from professional backgrounds and took up boxing to get fit. Now, she says, they tend to come from a more “traditional” boxing background.

Rocky Garza of the Police Activities League boxing gym in Oxnard, California, says some of the girls who show up to is after school program have been sent by juvenile judges or probation officers.

Douglas grew up with two drug-addicted parents, both of them in and out of jail. She and her three brothers were raised by aunts, uncles, cousins, and strangers.

Back then, she says, she was out of control. “If you say anything to me I would break your face and that was the end of that.”

Now Douglas joins her mom at Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Washington DC and she and her brother Antoine Douglas, also a contender for the US Olympic boxing team, help take care of their youngest sister.

Listen above to Douglas tell the story of her transition from angry teenager, fighting in the streets, to flyweight boxer ranked number two in the nation. At a double elimination tournament outside Spokane, Washington, beginning Febuary 13th, Douglas will compete against seven other flyweight boxers for a spot on the first US Olympic women’s boxing team.

"It’s against the rules to have as many muscles as I have."
"It’s against the rules to have as many muscles as I have." ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
"Who is boxing? That’s a good question. I honestly think boxing is me. Boxing is the love of my life."
"Who is boxing? That’s a good question. I honestly think boxing is me. Boxing is the love of my life." ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
"I’m a freak for pain. I love pain and I think boxing is the only thing that knows how to give it to me without hurting me."
"I’m a freak for pain. I love pain and I think boxing is the only thing that knows how to give it to me without hurting me." ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia fights at flyweight (112 lbs). She spends about $100 a month on food using the $500 monthly stipend she receives from USA Boxing.
Tyrieshia fights at flyweight (112 lbs). She spends about $100 a month on food using the $500 monthly stipend she receives from USA Boxing. ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Calvin Ford, Tyrishshia’s coach, says she has the makings of a champion.  “What she has to really work on is herself. Once she finds out what is in her, you’re going to see some amazing stuff.”
Calvin Ford, Tyrishshia’s coach, says she has the makings of a champion. “What she has to really work on is herself. Once she finds out what is in her, you’re going to see some amazing stuff.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia fighting at the Police Athletic League Tournament in Toledo, OH in October, 2011.  “Just because I have on a glove doesn’t mean I can’t switch in a second to be a lady.”
Tyrieshia fighting at the Police Athletic League Tournament in Toledo, OH in October, 2011. “Just because I have on a glove doesn’t mean I can’t switch in a second to be a lady.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia started boxing after she was sentenced to community service for fighting.  “In street fighting you don’t have a ref to tell you to stop.”
Tyrieshia started boxing after she was sentenced to community service for fighting. “In street fighting you don’t have a ref to tell you to stop.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
“It it wasn't for boxing, I have no idea where I would be right now. When I was a young girl, I had a lot of anger inside me. It's a good thing I put my talent into some gloves.”
“It it wasn't for boxing, I have no idea where I would be right now. When I was a young girl, I had a lot of anger inside me. It's a good thing I put my talent into some gloves.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Boxers are examined by a ringside physician after each fight.
Boxers are examined by a ringside physician after each fight. ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia warms down after a fight.  When she was a teenager, people told her she looked too strong.  “It didn’t affect me,” she says. “My punch affected their face.”
Tyrieshia warms down after a fight. When she was a teenager, people told her she looked too strong. “It didn’t affect me,” she says. “My punch affected their face.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )

Tyrieshia with her mother and her brother, Antoine, an honors student as well as a National boxing champion. When Antoine was little she tried to protect him from knowing that their mother was a crack addict.

( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia and Antoine. “She’s the best sister in the world” he says. “In life, we support each other. I can’t remember the last time we were mad at each other.”
Tyrieshia and Antoine. “She’s the best sister in the world” he says. “In life, we support each other. I can’t remember the last time we were mad at each other.” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
Tyrieshia’s mom loves to watch her daughter box.  “I mean, I wanted her to be my cheerleader, but whatever could get her focused at the time...”
Tyrieshia’s mom loves to watch her daughter box. “I mean, I wanted her to be my cheerleader, but whatever could get her focused at the time...” ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
After Tyrieshia makes it as a professional boxer, she plans to open a building for kids who want to achieve their dreams.
After Tyrieshia makes it as a professional boxer, she plans to open a building for kids who want to achieve their dreams. ( Sue Jaye Johnson )
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