Before I joined the Army, my parents had not allowed me to do karate. They thought that the fighting arts were too physical for my clumsy body and not entirely appropriate for a girl. During my initial enlistment at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, I joined a boxing club to overcome exercise plateaus and improve my fighting skills and learn how to dodge attacks from an opponent. For the first time in my life, I had the self-confidence and strength to enter a fight and not back down. I wanted to keep feeling that way, forever.
In the summer of 2009, I entered West Point as a plebe (freshman) and tried to take Plebe Boxing, at the time a requirement for all male cadets. However, the administration stated it "wasn't safe for women" and that all female cadets had to take Female Combatives, an alternate course. Unlike boxing for the men, Female Combatives was broken into five different units of fighting styles (judo, grappling, boxing, wrestling, and military hand-to-hand); while female cadets were introduced to more than one martial art, they had less time to learn and practice within a specific area. Because female cadets had to learn five different styles and were expected to become halfway decent with very little time, they were unable to build self-confidence and get over beginner's fear, something that is focused on in the boxing class but not in the fighting class women took.
Although I hated the Combatives class, I was undeterred and found a group of like-minded female cadets who wanted to box, and we trained together after hours. We called ourselves the Underground. The senior who led our group fought on our behalf with the administration, trying to gain recognition and allow us equal use of the equipment. But the male officers and administrators refused to listen, saying we would hurt ourselves, that we couldn't handle the pressure, and at one point claiming we would be too smitten with the male boxers to concentrate on our training. Finally, the senior persuaded them to allow us a slot in the annual Brigades, a boxing competition technically open to the entire Corps of Cadets, but at which only men competed. However, they would only allow one fight, between me and my friend, B.
I had met B. through the Underground, and because our heights and weights were similar, we were matched up for sparring. She was older than me by several years, having enlisted and done a tour overseas before coming to the Academy. She was a more experienced, and hence better, boxer than me; her hooks and jabs were very technical, always hitting the mark. I was the brawler, not as controlled when throwing a punch but fighting through the hits and blood (I have what is called a glass nose, meaning it bleeds easily when hit, so just about every match ended in a gusher for me). When we weren't beating each other up, we often exercised together, running or lifting in the gym. We were excited to represent the women's team in proving our worth to the men.
The lead-up to the fight was fraught; twice the men's head coach tried to block us with loopholes or regulations, even going so far as to make B. and me fight practice rounds to prove our competence. But we prevailed and fought in the Brigades. Our fight was the biggest draw of the event: cadets and officers packed the small gym. As the better boxer, B. took the victory with more points, but I knocked her down with a hook. After the fight, we thought for sure the Underground would be recognized. We were wrong. They still wouldn't let us join the men on the team or form our own.