New boxing club allows female cadets to excel in the ring

The first females to compete in the Academy's annual boxing competition,
this year Feb. 19, 2015, at the Wing Open.  Left to right: Master Sgt. Sarah Allen
(women's boxing club assistant coach), C4C Victoria Rodriguez, C4C Aubrey
Lowe, C1C Hope Stremcha, C2C Kassie Prusko, C2C Sarenna Ortiz, C3C Bridgett
Wall, C3C Heather Parcasio and Master Sgt. Debra Sheppard (women's boxing
club head coach). (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)

The first females to compete in the Academy's annual boxing competition Feb. 19 at the Wing Open. Left to right: Master Sgt. Sarah Allen (women's boxing club assistant coach), C4C Victoria Rodriguez, C4C Aubrey Lowe, C1C Hope Stremcha, C2C Kassie Prusko, C2C Sarenna Ortiz, C3C Bridgett Wall, C3C Heather Parcasio and Master Sgt. Debra Sheppard (women's boxing club head coach). (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Since the fall, female Falcons here have been practicing their fighting skills six days a week to increase their confidence, stamina and dominate competition.

For the first time in Academy history, a female boxing club was created here in August to allow women to compete in the male-dominated sport. About 20 cadets attend practice regularly and seven became the first women to compete in the Academy's annual Wing Open Boxing Championship Feb. 19.

"The ladies who fought in the championship all did really well and I am extremely proud of them," said Cadet 1st Class Hope Stremcha, the club's team captain and a Wing Open competitor. "Three walked away as Wing Open champions and three as runner-ups."

Stemcha began boxing in 2013 on a semester exchange at the U.S. Military Academy. While there, she practiced with the women's team and wanted to start a team here. She and the club's head coach, Master Sgt. Debra Sheppard, formed the team.

"It's important because there are females at the Academy who want to box, and have great potential in the sport - why shouldn't they be able to?" Stremcha said. "Females benefit in the same ways males do from the sport, especially as future military officers. Boxing instills courage, builds confidence and self-esteem, and tests how you react physically and mentally under pressure. These are all skills we will benefit from for the rest of our lives."

Sheppard boxed on the Air Force team and competed as a USA amateur fighter for seven years; her last competition was in 2012. She said sister academies such as the Military Academy and the Naval Academy established women's physical education classes and boxing clubs, and it was time for the Academy to follow.

"We're very thankful for the opportunity," she said. "It would have not been possible without the support of Lt. Col. Matthew Glover (interim men's boxing head coach), the Athletic Department and our Academy leadership. The club is recreational and open to any female cadets. The opportunity helps boost the girls' confidence, self-defense techniques and teaches them to rely on their training, which is instrumental to military success. As National Collegiate Boxing Association boxers, they attend the same meets as the male team and practice at the same gym."

At the Wing Open, Cadet 4th Class Aubrey Lowe won the Outstanding Boxer award for the women's category and placed first in the150-pound competition.

She said having the courage to step in the ring is a challenge in itself.

"Specifically for female cadets, I think boxing helps us be more confident since we're constantly surrounded by men," Lowe said. "Male cadets take Boxing, PE 110, here; the club gives females the ability to try out boxing and get a similar experience."

Cadet 3rd Class Susan Hurtado said she fell in love with boxing the first day she tried it.

"I am a first generation American and my dad was a boxer in Colombia when he was my age," she said. "My dad showed me a few things but I didn't seriously begin boxing until I joined the club here. It's important to have a team because there are some really good female boxers at the Academy who don't even know it. The hardest thing about the sport is that you can't tap out. If you are tired in the middle of the bout, you have to keep going. There is no one else in the ring except you and your opponent. That's when your training, your skills and your conditioning are tested. You have to work hard during practice to show off your talent and win a bout."

Boxing presents new challenges every day, Stremcha said.

"Learning how to take a punch is challenging for some but for others it's more mental," she said. "You have to finish the fight by yourself.  No matter what you faced that day, when you get in the ring to fight, it's the only thing you can be focused on."

Three cadets in the club will compete at the NCBA Regionals March 13-15 and three will compete at the Military Academy's Women's Invitational Saturday.

"It will be their first opportunity to compete outside of the Academy," Sheppard said.
Hurtado said she hopes the club becomes an intercollegiate sport here.

"Having a women's intercollegiate team would really allow the time to train and compete in legitimate competitions around the U.S.," she said. "Those opportunities would be amazing."