Sunday, September 10, 2000

She can't wait to fight


But the blows hurt Mom, too

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        COVINGTON — It's the boxing mom's curse: You hate to watch, but you can't help it. That's your 13-year-old daughter up there.

        “She just got her first bloody nose,” Marjorie Simon announced one recent evening at the Shamrock Boxing Club in Covington.

        Her daughter, Julie, was looking pleased. She had a brownish-red smear on her right sleeve.

        “She wanted to get a bloody nose,” Ms. Simon says. “I can't believe it. I guess it's like a little initiation. Go figure — a daughter who wants to box.”

[photo] Julie Simon, 13, of Fort Thomas spars with Patrick Brennan, 16, of Fort Mitchell at the Shamrock Boxing Gym. Julie wants to box in matches with other girls.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        The Simons live in Fort Thomas, which is about as far from Shamrock Boxing as you can get. In Fort Thomas, football reigns thanks to the dominating program at Highlands High School. Julie is on the eighth-grade basketball team, but since April, she and her mother have spent nearly every weeknight at Shamrock.

        The gym is run by Terry O'Brien, a longtime trainer and former boxer. Famous fighters stop by his gym — people like Tony Tubbs, a world heavyweight champion, and Tim Austin, the bantamweight champ and Olympic medalist.

        Then there are the kids, teen-agers and young adults who pack the place every evening. As long as they join the U.S. Amateur Boxing Association, kids can train here for free. Mr. O'Brien supports the nonprofit enterprise with proceeds from bingo games.

        On weeknights the club fills with guys — black and white, young and not-so-young — who grunt and sweat as they pummel the bags. Julie is one of a handful of girls. None match her weight or skill, so she spars with teen-age boys and young men.

        Female boxing is gaining in popularity — a movie called Girlfight will be out this month — but it still has its critics. Some say women aren't getting the right training, so their fights are bloody and exciting, but also crude and dangerous.

        In 1996, 37-year-old Katie Dallam fought a stronger woman after just six weeks of training. She suffered brain damage from at least 100 blows to the head; because it was a professional fight, she didn't use headgear.

[photo] Marjorie Simon (background) watches as gym owner and boxing coach Terry O'Brien puts headgear on her daughter, Julie, for a sparring match.
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        The Simons are aware of the risks. Julie says she doesn't think about it. She likes getting in shape, relieving stress on the bags. She works more muscles through boxing than basketball, she says.

        People can't believe her mother lets her do it. “It's so dangerous,” they say.

        “I thought that, too,” says Ms. Simon, a single mom. “But I'm here every day, and it is very controlled.”

        Mr. O'Brien spent four months teaching Julie the fundamentals — footwork, defensive moves, punches — before he felt comfortable putting her in the ring.

        Of course, Ms. Simon had to give the OK. She's the only parent who attends virtually every workout.

        “(Julie) was bugging me constantly, "I want to spar, I want to fight,'” Ms. Simon says. “I said, "Go ahead, let her. She gets hit, and she won't want to do it anymore.'”

        On this rare occasion, mom was wrong.

        “She's a natural,” Mr. O'Brien says of Julie.

        The boxing was supposed to be a summer alternative to basketball camp, which the Simons couldn't afford. Now Julie is addicted. She hits hard, and she loves it. Can't wait to go up against other girls in her first fight, which may take place in a few months.

        The boys aren't allowed to pound her, so she sometimes doesn't bother to move her head. A real fight would be against another girl.

        “I'll be able to defend myself more, and they'll be hitting me back the same as I'm hitting them,” Julie says.

        Oh, good. Mutual brutality.

        Julie can't explain why she likes this so much. She's bashful. At school, hardly anyone knows about her boxing; people would probably be surprised, she says.

        In the ring, Julie speaks with her fists. On the sidelines, her mother emotes wildly but manages to keep quiet.

        She also keeps an eye on the very young children who are running around. She won't have curse words in the gym. And she cringes when she sees kids throwing playful punches.

        Her reaction sums up the contradictory nature of her daugh ter's new sport.

        “I think fighting's very brutal,” Ms. Simon says. “To the little kids I say, "Huh-uh. We don't fight unless we have our gloves on.'”

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.
       



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