Growing up my parents told me I could be anything and become anyone I wanted to become. While it was a very traditional household and I was expected to learn the things girls were “supposed” to learn about, I got just as much expectation to pursue my dreams and grow up to be whatever I wanted to be as much if not more at times.
One of the most memorable moments I had growing up was with my grandmother Petrita. My grandmother did not know how to read, so anytime I visited, she would ask me to read to her, especially the daily news. I remember that day clearly because there was some big headline about the President. I told her “Abuelita, imagine how cool it would be to be President!” She agreed and told me that maybe when I grew up I could become one. I looked at her and giggled in disbelief and said “But I’m a girl!”
It was then that she pulled me toward her, held me by the shoulders, moved my hair to the side looked right into my eyes, and said: “Miriam, you can be anything and everything you want, a president, a lawyer, anything, anything you want. Never, ever forget that.” I was probably six or seven years old, but her words stuck with me for the rest of my life.
As a grown-up now, I realize the importance of those words, not only because I have knowledge and experience as an adult but because my grandmother was born in 1904. She was a true pioneer at heart. After all, she had experienced what “being just a girl” was about back in the “old days” when certain things, including dreams weren’t even allowed to be thought of. And while she had grown up in a world that was dominated by men, she made sure I knew there was much more for generations ahead.
Her words, along with the support of my family, were instrumental growing up. And although the minute I would leave home I encountered the usual “don’t play that or don’t do this, girls don’t do that” sort of speech, it never really mattered, because at home, and in my heart, I knew I could be anything I desired.
However, while always knowing this, at times I must admit, it has been a hassle to ignore the little things that could hold girls and women back. Even with my writing, when I first told a few I would write about sports, the look I got was that of doubt and I even got statements of questions about my knowledge about sports. I mean maybe I should write about cooking and not baseball, someone said once. But not my father, he did not. He once more said “you can do this I know you can.”
So all and all, while there has been great progress in women’s rights, there is still plenty to work on—especially among those close to us.
The reality is that there are still some who don’t believe—and worse act—like women can’t do certain things. Or worse, should do certain things in life. But even more scary, there continues to be socio-cultural norms that prevent girls and women’s dreams from coming true. And if they do, they come at a bigger sacrifice and at times, at the cost of things that no man would ever have to endure through if they wished for the same accomplishment in life.
Sometimes it even seems as people don’t know what gender equality is. Perhaps because the lack of practice is the norm and even ingrained to a point that not only men or boys frown upon the thought, but even some women believe there are still some places or things women and girls shouldn’t do at all.
So in this piece, I am hoping to explore culture and society when it comes to women in sports, specifically in boxing, has perhaps unfolded and will continue to do so. And yes, I welcome the let’s not mix “politics” and “sports” comments right off hand, but this isn’t about politics. It is very much about sports! And while risky, I had to take the shot, because if I didn’t, I know my Abuelita Petrita (RIP) would frown upon at me as she looked right into my eyes.
Now, without trying to get too political, I find myself having to thread carefully to not give any room for this piece to be seen as anything but what it is, an editorial opinion to explore the current state of women’s participation in sports and to a explore comparison of how women in sports differ from when men are the leading force.
And what a better way to write about this than highlighting the experience of two amazing women in boxing in the PNW, World Champion, Molly McConnell and professional boxer Tricia Arcaro Turton. Two female boxers who have prevailed at the professional level in a sport that, without a doubt, is male-dominated all around. I invite you to read about each of their experiences and their hopes for female athletes in boxing and in sports across the board.
World Champion Molly McConnell –
Molly is a two-time World Boxing Champion, four-time Amateur National Champion, two-time Ringside Amateur World Tournament Gold Medalist, a NIKE Harry S. Glickman professional female athlete of the year finalist and currently a Certified USA Boxing Coach. Molly’s record speaks for itself. If there is a name that tells the story of strong female boxer, it is that of Molly. She has held the WSBC Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight titles and both the WIBF and GBU Jr. Welterweight World Championship titles. If this woman isn’t worth what she weights in gold as a boxer, I am not sure who is!
In 2012 after a successful career, Molly opened her own boxing gym. Having been coaching both amateur and professional boxers along with MMA fighters, Molly knew it was time to take it to the next level, that of building a place where her legacy could reside. So let’s hear how Molly the boxer transformed into a gym owner and coach.
OSN: Boxing is a male-dominant sport. With that said, what is it like to be a female coach?
Molly: The makeup of my team is about 60-40 men being the 60 and women being the 40. It varies but we have a pretty diverse group and the makeup of my business our fitness program is about 50/50. Tons of women and tons of really awesome guys and from my perspective being a female coach the part that takes you the furthest is your knowledge you know? So whether you are female or male if you can move these guys and these women, especially the ones who are actually competing moving forward, that’s the part that really matters and that’s what matters to these people.
For me, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I’ve been a Portland fixture in Portland boxing for over 20 years, so you know everyone knows me. You know and I don’t get any weird sort of stuff ever because you know they respect what I have accomplished and everybody knows my history so.
OSN: I used to be in the tech industry and I noticed that sometimes there were no females in some of those teams and I asked, why weren’t they hiring women. The HR department at that time said they hardly got any female applicants. To turn that around into the boxing scene, what’s your feel about the level of interest on women wanting to become involved in boxing? And not only in the recreational, fitness side, but in the competing side, or even as a coach?
Molly: Yeah, you know, I think it’s been steadily growing. I mean, since I’ve been competing. It’s been getting better and better. I think that with the introduction of women’s boxing into the Olympics, which was, obviously long, long overdue, I think that it kind of really bumped it. It gave the visibility that you know that we really needed. And that is something that I think has been missing you know, people hear, even boxing fans, if they hear women’s boxing their immediate reaction is like, “oh that is garbage.” And here is this Olympic stage, a big stage, the biggest stage in the world. I mean, in my opinion that is far more prestigious than winning a world title. If you can win a world medal, I would have rather done that than being a world champion but for that big of a stage worldwide and to have the women do so awesome. Especially Claressa Shields, she just went for it, I mean put on a show, she just, you know her skill level and how she represented the US and herself I think that it lend a lot of legitimacy that we already know was due, but it took it to a wider audience for sure.
OSN: What is your coaching style? Is there a difference between coaching men and women? Or as you said earlier you just concentrate on the person’s strengths and capacity?
Molly: Yeah, as far as men and women I don’t have a style that is different the one from the other. If you talk to my boxers, they will agree and tell you I am pretty much a no-nonsense person. You know in my career as a fighter there was no one that ever worked harder than I did so I have zero tolerance for complaining or anything like that. And literally I have zero tolerance and they come in knowing I expect a lot from them regardless of their gender. But I also think that part of being a good teacher is not just about being knowledgeable, but understanding that every person that you deal with whether you are teaching french, math or boxing you have to know how to communicate with people and each person is going to be different. I have people who perhaps need more hand holding. I have people who need a firmer approach, it all just depends on their personality and what they respond to and I think that’s really what the good mark of a teacher is about. No matter what the subject is, you know what’s the point of having all this information in my brain if I can’t get it across to you, it doesn’t really matter how much I know. But in terms of men and women I don’t necessarily approach them differently based on that. It just has to do with the person and how they respond to different styles of communication.
Although as a side note, I will say that women listen better. Just in general.
Molly: Yeah, I do. I love working with men but the women, I think that if you ask any coach that works with female athletes, especially in boxing they will tell you the same. I was in Las Vegas a couple of months ago and we went to a gym and there was a coach who works with, works mostly with men, but he works with a couple of girls and he said working with men is sometimes “like trying to clean with a wet sponge” and he said you have to ring it out first and then you can actually get something accomplished.
And it was funny you know, because he was telling me “I have these couple of women” not too many of them, but was telling me how much better they listen and follow directions so I think that’s a little interesting side note, probably kind of a universal feeling amongst coaches if they are honest about it.
Women are generally, I think easier to work with because they don’t come into the boxing field feeling like they already know something about it. They come into it and say “okay I don’t know anything about this, so I want you to teach me something about it, whereas men often times, not always have a little preconception that they already know something about fighting or they already know something about boxing and the fact is generally they don’t, so is almost like you have to wipe up that slate clean before you can add anything to it and with women you are just starting with this clean view and sometimes it’s a little bit easier.
OSN: Do you have any females in your competition team right now?
Molly: Yes, I have a couple. I have two right now that are competition ready. And I have probably three or four who are more in the beginning stages. Just like I would say probably within six months to a year of being ready for that. You know it takes a different amount of time for each person. Just kind of depending on ability level and so on. So we have a lot of women that are kind of up and coming in the gym right now that are just getting started and they are working really hard towards that goal and I have one that has already competed quite a bit and another one who is getting ready and she is right on the edge of being ready for that kind of thing.
OSN: Great! So once these women you are getting ready to fight, are at that point, are there any struggles to finding other women who are ready as well?
Molly: Oh, it’s way more difficult! Just the number of men who are involved in boxing, like for example I have a guy in here who’s 140 pounds, I mean I can find him a fight tomorrow and then I can find him another fight the day after that. I mean, there is an endless list of guys who would fall into his category and his experience level and his weight division. With women that’s harder, but even that is getting better. I mean, there is far more women who are participating in it now, so it’s substantially easier than it used to be. Still more of a struggle than matching men.
OSN: I have noticed that there are more young girls involved in boxing than there are women. Do you think that is an effect in the change of culture? Since back in the day certain sports were more reserved for boys kind of thing? Would you say that is changing?
Molly: Oh yeah for sure! And I think that when I started boxing, I started boxing when I was 25. So by most people standards that’s really late to start a sport. Knowing nothing about it, and just walking in and throwing a punch and knowing anything about it and I think that’s very common for my era of female boxers to start you know something in their 20s, sometimes even in their 30s and then still reach a really high level. You know the guys, because they have been boxing so much longer or at least it has been more in the forefront you know a lot of them start when they are nine or ten years old so by the time they are 14, I mean they’ve had a lot of competition. So women, generally, like women in my era it was not something that ever happened because you didn’t have girls to start boxing when you were ten. So, now I think you are seeing in the last, probably maybe ten years or so, I think predominantly in the last five that’s really changed a lot we are seeing more and more younger girls who are starting at a much younger age like the boys do and you know coming up through the system and in a more traditional way I guess? As supposed to someone like me who basically started as an adult.
OSN: If any women or girls want to start, where can they go or should they go to?
Molly: If you are talking about kids my biggest thing is always safety. And I don’t have any kids in my boxing team. I just, personally as a side note I don’t think kids should be getting hit in the head. That’s my personal feeling. I am probably the only one in the state of Oregon that doesn’t have children in their team. I do private lessons with kids and boxing is great for kids as far as discipline and all that stuff, but I stay away from it in the competition level. But if you are talking to a parent who is trying to get his kid into something like that, boy or girl, the first thing really is, you need to be cautious, ask a lot of questions about the coaches what their experience level is. What kind of program do they run, are they certified by US Boxing. You know those kind of things. People, since boxing isn’t a mainstream sport, people go into the gym, and I mean I have seen it for 20 years, some guy says “I am a boxing coach” and the parents are like, okay cool, because they don’t know any different. You know they don’t know anything about the sports. So the fact of the matter is there is a ton of people out there who will tell you they are coaches and really have any business saying that. They don’t have the experience. Have they worked with children? What is your philosophy with safety? As a parent I want to make sure my child is safe. Am I free to stay and watch? As a parent you may want to do that. Maybe not every time because you don’t want to get in the way but, sometimes you may want to do that. For example in my gym, when I do private lessons, parents are more than welcome to stay and watch and you know make sure they get a really good vibe from everything and see how everything is going. Is very transparent situation and that’s how it should be. So you know, just to be careful. Now if you are an adult, you obviously have a better capacity to make those decisions. Now if you are an adult looking to get into boxing, again, do your research, you know what’s the reputation of the gym. Who are the coaches? What’s their experience level? And most of it I think you can figure it out quickly by going in and just feeling what’s the vibe of this place. What kind of energy do I get from this person who is running this place or these people who are in charge of this program. And I think for some women, they tell me they went to x, y, z and it was an uncomfortable situation, so that’s something you have to pay attention, because it doesn’t mean it has to be that way, it just means you haven’t found the right place.
Tricia Aracaro Turton –
OSN: You own your own gym. How did you start?
Tricia: I started boxing in 2002 as an amateur and started as a pro in 2004.
OSN: Were you part of a club or was this something you did on your own?
Tricia: Yes, I was part of a club and then when you are a pro, you are just on your own and licensed.
OSN: Tell me a little bit about your experience. Was it hard to break into boxing, or was it something that just happened?
Tricia: It was hard to get fights, because they weren’t a lot of women who fought. So it was really hard to get fights. I’d have maybe only two a year and often times at the national tournaments, so I took a lot of training for very little fights.
OSN: Where did your interest for boxing begin?
Tricia: I was in Seattle. I am still in Seattle, so that’s where I boxed.
OSN: Was there a specific reason of why boxing over any other sport?
Tricia: I played Rugby for ten years, prior to boxing and a friend of mine was doing a boxing workout, I just retired from playing Rugby. I played on the US team on the elite level so I was looking for something challenging and competitive and so when I tried the boxing workout I really liked it and when I started sparring and I really liked sparring, so then I started competing.
OSN: Tell me a little bit about your record.
Tricia: As amateur I was 13 and 3 and then as a pro I was 8 and 4.
OSN: Impressive! Now, let’s move forward a little bit. You are a coach. How did you make that transition and why did you make that transition?
Tricia: Well, I had worked in a lot of leadership and management positions throughout my career, so it always seems to be sort of a natural way to go. And I was in UPS in management and I just wasn’t happy with the amount of hours I was working, even though I was making good money. It wasn’t a good quality of life, so you know. I took a leap and just started coaching. I started coaching in another gym and coached year for ten years, and really learned how to run the business and then left there just about four, four and a half years ago and decided to start my own business.
OSN: What’s your membership like? Is there a specific age group you service or are you open to all ages?
Tricia: We have all ages, eight years and up. I think the oldest we have boxing with us is a lady that is 83.
OSN: Oh wow! That’s great!
Tricia: Not sparring, but you know fitness and recreational.
OSN: Do you have a competition team?
Tricia: Yes, both men and women. As a matter of fact Molly and I have worked across the corner from each other several times. Yeah, that’s really fun.
OSN: How did you and Molly meet?
Tricia: Through boxing. I was amateur, and she was an amateur. And, we were in different weight classes at the time and as a matter of fact in 2004 I was working for UPS and competing as an amateur and I went down to Portland because I was on a special automation team and I had to go to school there in Swan Island, so yeah I was there for school for UPS for a week and I didn’t want to miss any training because I had nationals coming up, so Molly helped me spar and prepare for nationals which I won in 2004. So, we then always have known each other, we never ended up fighting each other as pros, but we crossed paths a few times.
OSN: Was the lack of match between you two due to a difference in weight class?
Tricia: No, I think it’s because she had gone pro before me. She had a little more experience. We just never kind of crossed paths. I fought different people and she fought different people.
OSN: From your point of view how hard is it for a female boxer or coach to break in or make it in a male dominated sport?
Tricia: Well, you know I’ve always been in male-dominated sports and jobs my whole life. Is like it always is, you just have to work a little bit harder and prove yourself a little bit more and you have to do it without fighting, you just have to do it with consistency and you have to have confidence and believe in yourself and you have to have a lot of patience for sometimes stupid things, stupid comments, you know, people that just don’t understand, you just have to be really patient.
OSN: From your point of view, as you look around your boxing community, would you say that the support for female boxers and coaches, is it strong or?
Tricia: It’s a lot stronger than when I started. We’ve had really good female athletes out of the PNW. We’ve had you know Queen Underwood, went to the Olympics, although she didn’t make it to the medal rounds, Molly is a World Champion, Dakota Stone, another boxer up here who is a champion. I had two world title fights I lost them both. We have a very strong female boxing representation so, with success, comes a lot of support.
OSN: With time we have witnessed that girls are now being more exposed than maybe other generations.
Tricia: Oh yeah, big time.
OSN: I imagine that is going to contribute to the growth of the sport.
Tricia: It actually helps with the quality and the depth. Because in the guys game, they have been doing it for so long that there is a lot of depth and competition. And in women, there is less of that competition, but it is getting better.
OSN: In your area or from your gym even, who do you think we need to be keeping an eye on when it comes to female boxers?
Tricia: You know there is a young lady in Oregon, her name is Diana Estrada. I have high hopes for her. I’ve been watching her since she was eight years old. And I am excited for her, I think she is going to do well. I don’t currently have any female athletes that are high level. Now I had a boxer Jen Hamann who won nationals in 2013 but she had an illness that prevents her from boxing anymore and she coaches for me now but she was up and coming too. So currently Diana Estrada probably would be the one.
OSN: Diana is in the Olympic team right now in training now.
Tricia: Yes, I think she is in the Olympic training center.
OSN: As a former boxer and a current coach, where do you hope to see women in the sport in a few years, five or ten?
Tricia: I would just like to see more depth. More selection for fights locally, because a lot of times, you know girls don’t have each other to fight and they have to travel really far, and it costs a lot of money. And it’s not really feasible, so I’d like to see several weight classes represented by women you know in our local areas, so it’s easier to get them fights.
OSN: What do you think that as a community we could do to help with that effort?
Tricia: You know honestly just to continue to support doing contact sports that we are no different, our human bodies are the same as anybody else, we can push ourselves and we can be challenged, we can take contact you know we can handle contact well and give and receive it and I think the more we start changing that paradigm that the better you know it’s I’ve always done and I love contact sports and always push myself that way so I feel like the more we do that we our young ladies that the better representation we will have in boxing.
Without a doubt, the talent and passion both Coach Molly and Coach Tricia have is impressive. Both are former professional boxers, with outstanding records. Both have become business owners in the sport and are doing their part to promote the sport at the fitness, recreational and competition level. But foremost, they are a very strong reminders that sports aren’t about gender, but about passion, commitment and the desire of beating the odds.
While both boxers have experienced two different paths, the commonalities are striking. They both see the need for the female boxing community to grow. They both see the need to make sure athletes are training in the right place and amongst the right crowd. Both expressed some of the challenges of what being a woman in boxing are, while at the same time shared how far the support for female athletes in boxing has come and are appreciative of those who show respect to their efforts the same way they do so for men as well.
It’s obvious Molly and Tricia along with the many girls, young women and women across the PNW are doing their part. It is our turn as the community to step up to the call. Let us make sure we promote female boxing events as much as we do those of men. And foremost, celebrate the achievements with the same level of recognition as their male counterparts.
It is often that while we talk and are open to women participating in all sports, we still lack the level of respect that it deserves. This is a topic of conversation not only in boxing, but across the board. There can be times that a national male team wins a championship and the whole US knows, but when it comes to a women’s team bringing the gold or title the support is just not there. We don’t make time to recognize but foremost support women in sports as we do with men. The question is why? But more important, what are we waiting for? It is exciting to see that younger female generations have more more opportunities but as you heard Molly and Tricia, we need to do more to make sure that female boxers have the possibility of the same amount of fights as male boxers do.
And if you need reasons to get excited, well think of what Tricia mentioned. The PNW is full of female boxing talent. Let us show the rest of the country and the world, the power of female boxers. After all, we do have some of the best and we should be proud to bring up their names as often as we can, but more important show up for girls and women who are working hard day and night to train to fight their best fight yet.
To close this, as the famously anonymous quote says, this piece goes to all women, especially those who are athletes. “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” – Unknown.
To my grandmother Petrita, who regardless of having grown up in an era where women had no rights, made sure to tell me my story could be different. To her and the many strong women before us. To all female boxers, the coaches and communities who believe in them. And to my two beautiful daughters who I hope will continue to carry the legacy that their great-grandmother left behind of dreaming and never stop believing that they can become whatever they want. To female boxers and athletes all over the world. Thank you Molly and Tricia for giving us an insight into your world. If you would like to learn more about Molly and Tricia’s boxing programs visit Molly Mcconnell’s Boxing Academy – http://mcconnellsboxingpdx.com/ and Arcaro Boxing Gym – https://arcaroboxing.com/ for more information.