Sarah Kuhn wanted to sign up for ballet class to help get her into better shape.
She'd taken it as a kid and remembered it as a great workout.
She tried to sign up three times, but the studio was closed.
So she went next door to Sweeney's gym and signed up for boxing lessons instead.
Two years later she's turned pro, and on Saturday night at the Washington Avenue Armory she won her second professional fight.
Why do you fight?
You know, it's something that I found out I was good at. I've always been an average athlete. I took ballet for ten years, I played four years of college basketball. I was OK, a hard worker, but I never excelled. This I just picked up the minute I started hitting the mitts, hitting the bag. I was good at this.
Was boxing something you'd ever thought about doing before?
Never. To be honest with you, I didn't know women boxed. I'd never really watched the sport -- never paid attention to it. I went to college for culinary arts and went to work in restaurants.
I was just bored with my workout and looking for a way to get in better shape. I went to sign up for ballet and when I couldn't get in the third time I saw the boxing gym and thought "boxing... I could do that."
I wandered into Sweeney's in my mini skirt and heels and Rick was there -- he's the owner. I said "Hi, I'm just wondering if I could have boxing lessons." (laughs) Rick looked at me and said "How much do you weigh?" That's the first thing he said to me. So I told him and he said "You wanna fight?" and I said "I guess."
So Rick said "Come on in, I'm gonna give you a workout." And he gave me the work out of my life! I couldn't open my hands for three days and I remember leaving the gym and saying, "If I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it, and I'm not going to quit. Still, it was all for fitness -- not for the ring.
Four months later I won the Adirondack Golden Gloves tournament. It was my first fight and I went on to win New York State Golden Gloves two years in a row, 2009 and 2010. I went to nationals where I did very well and we decided it was time to turn pro. It all just kinda went really fast. But I listen and I pay attention and I picked it up.
Why did you decide to turn pro?
My trainer trained me in a style that is more conducive to professional boxing.
In amateur boxing you're more concerned with points, so if i throw thirty tappy punches at you, I'm gonna get thirty points --it has nothing to do with knockout power. I'm a knockout puncher. I have a very strong punch but I'm not the fastest one out there, so a lot of my
amateur fights came down to a decision for the other person because I wasn't the quicker of the two. It's just different styles.
Are you an aggressive person?
Not at all. I'm a very passive person. Always have been. Outside of the ring I don't fight.
I don't like to get angry. I've broken up a few fights. "Lets talk this out guys" has always been my motto.
To me boxing is a lot more mental than it is aggressive and physical. Boxing comes with a lot of stereotypes -- "you got to be mean, you've got to be big, you've got to be a bully to be a boxer." It's not true. You have to be a thinker because you have to be able to counter what your opponent is doing. And they may be a big, aggressive bully, but they also may be thinking what you're thinking, you know? "She's gonna move this way so I gotta move that way -- I have to counter attack." Boxing is very, very mental and that's one thing about it that people don't understand.
Friends from college will write to me and make fun of me. They can't believe I'm doing this. It's not who I am. I was never aggressive. But I realize with boxing that you don't have to change who you are for a sport.
And that's the thing about me -- I'm a girl. I wear pink in the ring. It's my favorite color. It's been my favorite color since I was a little girl and I'm not gonna stop doing that. There's another stereo type about boxing: that you have to be this big monster. You don't.
There is a sort of cultural thing that kind of works against the idea of women boxing, though. Do you have to deal with that?
Oh, absolutely. Even some of the best male boxers in the world have been quoted as saying women don't belong in the ring -- that women aren't supposed to be doing this. We work just as hard, and we put in just as much, if not more time in training.
Absolutely the stereotypes are there. "What's going to happen to your pretty face?" "You don't want to do that, you're a lady." Well I am a lady, you know, but for two minutes for four rounds in the ring, I'm a boxer.
Do you ever get used to getting hit?
No. Not at all. You feel it every single time. You feel the body punches, you feel the head punches -- every single time. You learn how to move your head more and you learn how to not get hit there the next time. It hurts, yeah but you're so focused on counter-punching and counteracting what just happened to you that you don't really think about the hurt. The next day you're sore.
Have you ever knocked anybody out?
I've never knocked anyone down, but they stopped both my first pro [bout] because she would have gone down. They stopped my first amateur fight for the same reason.
What's the worst injury you've suffered?
My sparring partner, Jackie, is a little shorter, but she hits these body shots that you would not believe. These stunning, take your breath away kidney shots, rib shots, body punches -- killer.
I've had bruises, black eyes. I fractured my nose. I just put my makeup on (laughs). I could buy stock in Bare Minerals -- that 's my make up -- it's nice, it's light, it's airy. Ha! I should be a spokesperson for them! (laughs) "You don't see my black eye -- but it's there."
Seriously though, with so many ways to get in shape, and so many sports to try -- what is it about boxing that makes a person want to brave getting hit?
You do it because it's something you're good at. There's very few people involved and if you're willing to put in the work to get to the ring there is no better feeling -- it's an accomplishment -- you're in there by yourself. This isn't a team sport. I mean I have my guys and girls who come to the gym and support me and I have my trainer, but once you step into the ring it's all you, and I don't think there is a better accomplishment in life than knowing that you did something by yourself. You went in there and you're a warrior. You're alone.
I think boxing brought out a different person in me -- a more confident person. My self esteem is through the roof. I feel like because I've accomplished this I could go out and do anything. If somebody said, "Let's train and run a marathon," two years ago I would have said, "no way." I could do that now. Even thought I know it would take a lot of training I know I could do that.
How much time and effort does this take?
This is a full time job. I'm here six days a week, three hours a day, and that doesn't include road work and it doesn't include my diet.
So this is a way of life for you. What is a typical day like?
I get up at about 9:30 have some breakfast. I watch "Say Yes to the Dress," which comes on at 11 on TLC, because I'm planning my wedding now and that's an important part of my day. I'll drink my coffee, eat my breakfast, do my runs -- about 3 miles -- then I'll come over here ... I'll go through my training, shower -- stop and tan and head over to work from 4-11.
I bartend at Milano, so I work in a restaurant -- which is tough when I'm dieting and I'm delivering pizza and pasta to everyone all night long. Especially before weigh in. But the hours are conducive to my schedule. So it's kind of like having two jobs.
So can you make a living as a pro boxer in the Capital Region?
No. Not yet. At this level I make $500 to $1,000 per fight, because I fight short bouts, four rounds. My trainer takes a cut of that. Right now he maybe makes enough to go to dinner after the fight (laughs). As you move up to the longer fights, you make more. I'm paying for my equipment and uniforms, and in the amateurs we had to pay for our travel -- I'm still paying off some of that. So I'm probably breaking even now. Maybe a little more.
Is boxing popular here? Do many people come to the fights?
My first professional fight was in September and there were about 1,700 people at the Washington Avenue Armory. That's the most people I've ever fought in front of. It draws people from all over the place. I don't think I understood that it was so popular until I started fighting. I fight for Ares, they're a new promoter. And part of our objective as fighters is to make fans and get more and more people interested. You gotta be different And that's one thing that I can bring to boxing. I want to be myself.
I won't lose me. I don't want to be a big brawler, I dont' want to be a mean person, I don't want to get on TV and be like "I'm gonna whip your butt." That's not me -- I'm a professional athlete.
Really, I'm your average 27-year-old girl -- I like to shop, I wear Coach, I like watching Bridezillas. And I box.
Fight photos: Julia Zave
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