Boxing Through Adversity
The New York Times has a great article up about Cheryl Ziegler, an 18-year-old single mother from the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, who is also a boxer.
Ziegler is Hawk’s latest prize student. She is tough and determined and fights with proper technique: hands up, chin down. She said she planned to turn professional in a month and a half. She spoke of wanting to be a champion. But she had been training seriously for only two months. This fight at Standing Rock was to be her second amateur bout.
A pummeling defeat here could injure her or lacerate her confidence. Ray Hawk feared that she would quit boxing just as she was beginning. Only recently had she gained some fragile orderliness in her life.
Pregnant at 17, in treatment for alcohol abuse, Ziegler continued to drift after giving birth in October 2007. Last spring, she failed almost all of her courses on the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. To the surprise of teachers and administrators, she returned to Lower Brule High in the fall. She seemed different, more responsible. She improved her grades, and the night before the fight she finally became eligible to rejoin the Lady Sioux basketball team.
There's a video at the link as well, and it's amazing to see what a great fighter this woman is. It reminds me of all that is good about sports, and how desperate the need is for feminists to dedicate more resources to helping more women and girls to get involved.
At the same time, the article/video also really hit home in a very sad sort of way. As a woman of color that comes from poverty (not nearly as bad as Ziegler's, but still), and has seen how the lure of quick money can suck much needed resources from improving and even maintaining educational and community programs for the majority of kids who will *not* make it big, I have to wonder why it's ok with so many of us that so many children in the U.S. grow up with such limited resources and alternatives--to the point that competition and sports is no longer about the game, but about the sense of desperation that sports may be the only answer there will ever be.
I am deeply thankful and inspired that Ziegler has an opportunity to help herself and is doing it in such a fierce, driven way. But I also have to wonder about all the other girls on her reservation, all the other girls in poor urban communities--and even about Ziegler herself. How would their lives be different if, in addition to boxing (and other sports), they also had access to family planning/sexual health services, community network programs that help children of imprisoned people, alternative education programs, after school programs, etc?
How would their lives be different, if, like Ziegler's trainer suggested, they were told every day of their lives, not just on game day, that they were important and necessary?
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