The Sport That Won’t Go Away

There once was a time when boxing ruled Hawaii. Certainly football, whether high school or collegiate, has always been a popular draw, but believe it or not, there was a time when big bouts would be the talk of the Islands. And the stars weren’t limited to one race, ethnic background or island of origin.

Steve Murray
Wednesday - November 10, 2010
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Justly Laquihon and his two world title belts

gal in Hawaii unless it was sponsored by the military. Of course, all over town fighters were testing themselves in illegal matches that the authorities rarely bothered to stop. To get around these rules, promoters often labeled the matches as exhibitions. Sometimes they even were. In 1894, while en route to Australia, former bare knuckle champion John L. Sullivan wowed Honolulu’s boxing fans for a few rounds.

For most of its history, boxing has suffered from an image problem. It is a violent sport, no doubt, but to those who embrace it the benefits outweigh any problems brought by those who don’t see it as sport.

“You think the sport of boxing is about fighting, but you need to be dedicated,” says Laquihon, who notes that those who enter the gym to be a better bully rarely last more than a month. “It’s not easy. You have to want to do this. It’s not about being a tough guy and showing off at school.”

While Laquihon dreams of boxing glory, others have goals that are much easier to attain.

Gardenia Sims is a 29-year-old mother of three who started training two years ago on the advice of a friend. Concerned about her weight following the birth of her youngest son, she agreed to give boxing a try. She would work out, but fighting was out of the question. That is, until one of the coaches asked why she was wasting her time just training.

“I said, ‘What is that supposed to mean?‘So I went in there one day, and it just clicked. Ever since then I’ve been competing, and I never in my life thought I would be competing,” says the smiling and now-35 pounds lighter fighter.

Sims is older than most who take up the sport. And like the mythical Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, she had people wondering if she was too old to compete.

“I get that all the time,” she says. “People like my dad think I should be at home and be a full-time mom, and he thinks boxing is something I should have started when I was younger. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a goal I never had, and now that I want to achieve. Look how much I have accomplished at 29.”

Kawano says the popularity of the sport among women continues to grow, and the reason may be that the 2012 Olympics in London will feature women’s boxing for the first time. Sims, who is ranked sixth nationally in her weight class, says she would love to compete, but family must come first. Though she trains seven days a week, boxing is now a hobby, and her kids’ athletic activities get first priority.

But even if she never competes again, she wants to set an example.

“That’s what I want to show my kids, that Mommy isn’t only full-time mom. I have goals, I can do stuff I want to do.”

And so can they.

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