LISTEN | Go For It: Life Lessons From Girl Boxers

A One-Hour Special from WNYC and PRX, the Public Radio Exchange
See Broadcast Schedule Below

Thursday, July 12, 2012

17-year old Claressa Shields believes losing is something other boxers do. (Sue Jaye Johnson)

If you box, by definition, you’re a risk-taker. If you’re a girl and you box, you’re a risk-taker and a rule-breaker. If you’re a girl and you box and your aim is to be the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for boxing – “That’s going for it, baby,” says actor, avid boxing fan and host Rosie Perez in a one-hour special from WNYC Radio and PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

As women enter the Olympic boxing ring for the first time, Go For It: Life Lessons from Girl Boxers, tells the story of a group of girls and women for whom boxing is an expression of ambition, drive, strength and – yes – aggression, qualities often admired in men and sometimes discouraged in the opposite sex. 

Claressa Shields, now 17 years old, started boxing when she was 11 despite the fact that her father, an ex-fighter himself, told her it was ‘a man’s sport.’ When Tyrieshia Douglas started boxing as a teenager in DC, she said people told her she looked ‘too strong.’ “It’s against the rules to have as many muscles as I have,” said the 112 pound boxer. And after a boxing trainer and promoter at Gleason’s gym in Brooklyn called female boxers “a disgrace” and argued fighting is in men’s DNA, not women’s, Heather Hardy rolled her eyes. “I’m programmed to do it,” she said.

“You know my mom always said, ‘Somebody pushes you, you punch them in the face and you make sure you draw blood,’” she said. “’Don’t make anybody want you to hit them two times.’”

(Sue Jaye Johnson)

The Makings of a Champ

It takes a certain kind of person to say ‘yes’ when others are saying ‘no.’ That penchant – to defy expectations, take chances and fight to become ‘the greatest’ – is what photojournalist Sue Jaye Johnson and WNYC’s Marianne McCune strived to document as they chronicled a year in the lives of women competing to box in the first Olympic Games to include them.

(Sue Jaye Johnson)

Go For It follows the ever-confident Claressa Shields, known as ‘Champ’ around town, from her high school in Flint, MI to Qinhuangdao, China, the scene of her final attempt to qualify for the Olympics (Radio Diaries gave her a microphone and recorder to document her journey). Go For It takes listeners backstage at the qualifying tournament for Team USA to witness the tears of a fighter whose years of training to make the Olympics – at one point even living in the back room of her Alabama gym – ended when she failed to make the team.

Go For It introduces listeners to boxers from Kenya, India, New Zealand and Venezuela and looks at what they’ve overcome to become champions in their countries. You’ll get to listen in as a mother from Venezuela telephones her own mom to tell her she has qualified for the London games.  

As brain scientists find increasingly stark evidence that repeated blows to the head cause a long list of problems later on, from death to memory loss and depression, Go For It also steps back to look at the risks to women boxers and why they choose to fight, regardless.

Whether you love or hate boxing, Go For It: Life Lessons from Girl Boxers will draw you into a deeply compelling conversation about what it means to be a girl and what it takes to be a champion.

While You Listen ...

 You can see photographs and learn much more about the women who spent the year competing for a spot on the first women's Olympic boxing team on the pages of this website: Women Box, Fighting to Make History.

See photojournalist Sue Jaye Johnson's slideshow of her year with the contenders.

Or find Claressa Shields' radio diary and a slideshow following her from high school in Flint, Michigan to competitions around the country and world. 

Tyrieshia Douglas tells the story of growing up 'too strong' and finding herself - and a family - in boxing. You'll also see her winning smile and tattoos. 

Brooklyn boxer Heather Hardy goes head to head - not glove to glove - with a Gleason's trainer who says women's boxing is a "disgrace." Listen to Hardy’s story and see photos of her as a fighter and as a mom (not so different, in her view). 

Listen to a story about the risk of head injuries and why some women insist on boxing despite the dangers. You'll also hear from a man whose wife died of Second Impact Syndrome, a blow to the head when the brain has already been injured by a previous hit.

Go behind the scenes with our podcast chronicling the US Olympic Team Trials for women boxers. Follow along as the contenders celebrate big wins or struggle through the loss of an all-encompassing dream. 

Read a Q&A with Christy Halbert, Assistant Coach for women boxers at the 2012 Olympics. She's also a sociologist, the author of a well-respected boxing handbook, and a longtime advocate for women's sports and women's boxing.

You can also get to know Team USA's women boxers.

And, please, discuss!

Go For It: Life Lessons from Girl Boxers airs on WNYC and NJPR: 
July 26 at 8pm on 93.9FM and AM820, NJPR
July 28 at 6am 93.9FM and NJPR, and at 2pm AM820
July 29 at 8pm on AM820 and NJPR
It will also air across the country - check your local public radio station to see if it's scheduled in your area.


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Comments [7]


Boys box

Boys run fast, jump high, punch hard

Boys get in the ring

Boys sweat and bloody each other up


We don't even watch

We stay in the kitchen

Baking brownies for our boxing boys


We are taught to be weak

To be afraid and fragile

It is much more lady-like

Ain't it?

Yet three women

Three stong fierce fighting

God-blessed women

Are fighting in London

Ain't they ladies?

Hell yes

Jul. 29 2012 10:17 PM
Brenda Bell from San Marcos,Texas

These young women of today are capable! And can be unstoppable! I believe they can all see victory in everything they do as a strong female boxer.I believe,because I once was there.They are our future for the next USA Game to come!
Brenda Bell "Tiger Lady"

Jul. 28 2012 07:25 AM
Linn from NJ

Set aside the inherent dangers of boxing...I wish these young women to know that they are standing in the footprints of their ancestors...the name Candace is the western version of the title given to Warrior Queens of Africa..that Celtic tribes had Queens of Warrior status. That "Woman as Victim" is a construct of the last 2000 years. Women are not weak. We are not afraid. We are not indecisive, we are not passive. There is no shame in aggression or strength or the physical ability to defend...there is no such thing as "unfeminine strength". Aggression is inherent in all creatures. The morality behind the application of that aggression is placed within the individual heart. Gender does not apply though social norms have thus far crippled half of the population, at some point women will come to understand that the myth of male dominance is just that... a fairytale...and will regain some control of their fate. In the meantime we are all enthralled by these stories of brave, driven women, athletes and dreamers...go for it...we are right behind you

Jul. 26 2012 11:43 PM

Thank you, thank you for this program. I was just about to have dinner when the broadcast began but ended up standing in my kitchen next to the radio for the whole hour -- arrested by these stories, unwilling to miss a single one of these women's fiercely felt words. These young women, and the older women before them who made this Olympic debut possible, raise the bar for all of us. However one may feel about boxing as a sport -- injurious by nature -- I am grateful to them for their fiery trailblazing, and to Marianne McCune and Rosie Perez (what a treasure of a lady) for shining a public light onto it. This show needs to win a Peabody!

Jul. 26 2012 09:20 PM
Fred Howard from Bushwick

These are the most uplifting and inspiring stories! Thanks for sharing and giving these brave and wonderful women a voice!

Jul. 26 2012 08:59 PM
Jay from Brooklyn

I am moved by these young women and their stories. I do not support the sport of boxing for anyone, however, I understand and respect their passion and dedication. I wish them the best and pray for them to emerge from the sport in good health and injury free for the rest of their lives.

Jul. 26 2012 08:12 PM
Stephen Grover from 10032

I hope that there will be no women's boxing in the next Olympics, because I hope that there will no boxing at all. Humans hitting other humans: it is to me as repugnant as bear-baiting or Roman gladiators.

Jul. 26 2012 08:03 PM

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