LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — She runs countless miles before dawn, spends hours in the gym honing body and mind into a single, well-oiled machine. She pours heart and soul with equal amounts of blood, sweat and tears into what has become her normal routine.
That routine built the foundation for former Marine lance corporal Melissa O. Parker to qualify as a competitor in the 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championships. She has been training for this moment for what seems like a lifetime.
“Training started as an after school activity, but I fell in love with it,” said Parker who was a generator operator assigned to Company A, Headquarters Support Battalion, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The lightweight boxer has been in the ring for eight years in April.
“A friend of mine, former Junior Olympics Champion Marty Wilson, passed away and part of the wake was at the boxing gym. Before that, I didn’t even know amateur boxing existed,” said Parker. “I didn’t even know women really boxed. But one of the coaches told me to come to the gym, just to try it out. You couldn’t get me out of the gym after that.”
The bell rings, signaling the start of potentially two of the longest minutes in Parker’s life.
In women’s amateur boxing, the combatants fight four two-minute rounds with a one-minute break between each round. The fighters earn points for each punch that lands cleanly and with sufficient force on their opponent’s head or torso. Competitors wear gloves with a white stripe across the knuckle and only punches that connect with that part of the glove count.
“She’s very tough,” said Jesse Ravelo, head coach of the All Marine Boxing Team. “She’s got good stamina and her mechanics are great. She’s also very strong – strong enough that she spars with the men on the team.”
“One of her main strengths is that she’s left-handed,” said Ravelo. “It’s very difficult to fight left handers and she’s got good defense. She’s a good all round boxer, she’s got power in both hands, and she moves very well in the ring.”
Boxers can win a bout by either scoring more points or knocking out their opponent either truly or technically. A win can lead to more opportunities for the boxer, though not all boxers are in it for the glory.
“My favorite part of being here is the competition,” said Parker. “My goal is to continue winning every competition up to the Olympics. I won the 2009 U.S. Nationals, 2009 National Police Athletic/Activities Leagues and the 2009 National Women’s Golden Gloves, and I was ranked number one in the country that year.”
The 2011 Armed Forces Boxing Championships featured 35 service members from duty stations around the world in bouts arranged to determine the top fighter in each of 10 male and four female weight divisions.
Just getting to the competition was an accomplishment for the boxers. Parker and her fellow athletes had to battle members of their own service and prove they were the best in their weight class before being chosen to compete at these championships.
“There is honor and pride in representing the best branch of the military,” said Parker, who has been in the Marine Corps for five years. “It’s my life, and I’d encourage anyone who is interested in boxing to give it a try. You never know if you’re going to like something if you never try it.”
The bell rings out again ending the round. It’s exhausting – taking hits and delivering them. Though the fighters wear protective head gear, injuries still happen and only the gloves and a fighter’s training protect them from body shots.
As the rounds progress, the fighters rely on the training and practice they’ve had up to that point. They’ve already proven they are the best in their service. They just have to win the bout to prove they are the best in all the armed forces.
“She can make it all the way to be an Olympian this year,” said Ravelo. “From what I see, I don’t think there’s a 132-pounder tougher than she is. She was a three time national champion, so she’s been around and I think her experience and her strength is going to take her all the way.”
“If she makes the Olympic team I’m pretty sure she’s going to step it up,” he said. “She’s going to go to the next higher lever. I think she’s got the potential to be an Olympic gold medalist.”