Minnesota women take to once-forbidden sport

Richard Ennis

There’s something about hitting things that makes boxing almost addictive to its participants.
Brenda Brink, a University alumna, said that after the end of a day it’s a relief to let out frustrations on a heavy bag or to turn loose on a speed bag. “It’s really satisfying to hit something,” she said.
That’s just one of the reasons why many boxing coaches and current female boxers in the Twin Cities believe the number of women frequenting boxing gyms is sure to grow. Boxing coach Bill Kaehn predicts there will be a large increase in women boxers in the next 10 years, thanks to the physical conditioning and competition of the sport. And he said he hopes to play an active role in their development.
Kaehn has more than 50 years of coaching experience, including 16 years at the University. He coached the men’s boxing club through eight consecutive victories in the four-state championship between 1980 and 1988. Soon after, the club folded because participation by registered students dwindled to the point where most of the boxers were non-students.
During the last four years of the club’s existence, Brink, then a University undergraduate, took advantage of the excellent conditioning available through the club and coach Kaehn.
But, to her dismay, women were not allowed to compete.
That changed in October of 1993 when 16-year-old Dallas Malloy from Lynnwood, Wash., sued the U.S. Amateur Boxing Association and won the right for American women to compete in boxing. She defeated Heather Poyner in November 1993, the first sanctioned women’s match.
Shortly after that event, Brink saw a story on television about women boxing in sanctioned competitions. She said she was ecstatic. She immediately called Kaehn and has been training with him at the Bloomington Karate Center ever since.
Now with a fight record of 3-0 and with one technical knockout in the first round, the 32-year-old Brink, at 132 pounds, is preparing for the first U.S. national championship tournament for women. The tournament, sanctioned by the United States Boxing Association, will meet in April in Atlantic City.
A technical knockout is declared when the referee stops the fight because he believes continuing would cause undo harm to the other boxer. With this, Brink has dispelled the myth that aggressiveness in the ring is an exclusively male trait.
For Brink, competition is the most exciting aspect of boxing. “I just like to fight,” she said. “You get kind of a survival high, I think.”
Unfortunately for her, it’s still an infrequent high. The small number of opponents prepared to fight her is the greatest obstacle to her development in what many call the “sweet science.”
This is a common frustration for budding women boxers at this early stage in the sport. There are wide gaps in the spectrum of skill levels among females. Consequently, there are few opportunities to compete against evenly matched opponents.
Sparring is an essential part of a boxer’s improvement and most of the time Brink must spar with male partners, as do many other female boxers across the United States.
Women who do not want to compete, however, can still enjoy the benefits and the fun that the boxing routine has to offer.
“I think the first time that women hit the heavy bag they’re really reluctant,” Brink said. She speculated that women have a lot of conditioning that punching an object isn’t very feminine. But once they get beyond their initial timidity they find it’s wonderfully appealing, she said.
While Brink is not the only women boxer in the Twin Cities, she’s probably the most consistent in her training.
Tommy Burnette, a coach at Brian Burnette’s Youth Boxing Gym in St. Paul, said that he sees some sporadic participation by women at his gym.
Though boxing might still be considered a boy’s sport, Burnette said growing participation by women is inevitable. While the numbers of women at the medium skill level are very small, there are some at the top who’ve enjoyed enormous success.
Like a highly skilled, male professional boxer, Christie Martin has landed several fights on television and pay-per-view events alongside main-event superstars like Mike Tyson.