Without Lucia Rijker, women’s boxing wouldn’t be what it is today. Never mind Christy Martin and her toughness and being signed by Don King and on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I’m not talking about the crossover power of Laila Ali and her incredible pedigree and athleticism. There is really only one female who has had the kind of impact on the sport that makes her worthy of being the first woman fighter to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I’m not talking now about being famous or raising the profile. I’m talking about something that moves people more profoundly than that, something that inspires them at a much deeper level.
All over the world it will be Lucia Rijker’s name mentioned in sentences that also include the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘role model’.
I can remember the first time I saw footage of her and feeling chills up my spine. Every fibre in my being was excited by what I saw. It made me want to reach those heights too, to be able to move with such efficiency and precision, to be so graceful and to turn that beauty into something lethal. Wow! I thought not just about myself but about my entire gender. Lucia was evidence. We CAN do this and we all have the potential to be amazing. And we can do it with our womanhood in tact as well, we don’t need to trade it off to be strong. It looked to me like the most definitive statement about modern femininity. Powerful and elegant. Who wouldn’t want to be like that?
And I’m not the only person who thinks all this ads up to something significant. New York boxing trainer Mark A Jones has decided to launch a letter-writing campaign to International Boxing Hall Of Fame to have Lucia inducted. And I would urge everyone to follow his lead.
When I asked him why he decided to start it, he said that when he began training women boxers a few years ago he decided to do some research. He came across Katya Bankowsky’s extraordinary film Shadow Boxers which features Rijker and the first women to compete in the New York Golden Gloves.
‘I came away overwhelmingly impressed with the depth of Lucia as a person. Her boxing ability, I had earlier determined from my study of the history of women’s boxing, to be second-to-none,’ Mark said. ‘She was the most complete female boxer worthy of induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The first inductee will open the doors for other women to be inducted in the future; it was important to select the right boxer. I didn’t want to overwhelm those responsible for constructing the ballot, so choosing only one female boxer was basically a must.’
Over the past few years, during Hall of Fame weekends which are near his house in Utica in upstate New York, Mark says he had chatted with voters for the World Boxing Hall of Fame, The International Boxing Hall of Fame, fighters that have been inducted, press-people, professional boxing trainers, anyone that would listen.
‘They nearly all believe that she was the best female boxer of all-time and deserved induction.’
A few months ago he attended the ceremony where both Mike Tyson and Sylvester Stallone were inducted.
‘I spoke with the Director of the IBHOF and discovered that a boxer can be added to the ballot if there is a desire from the public to have the boxer placed on the ballot for consideration by the voters. I think that her induction, in concert with the 2012 Olympics, will assist in moving women’s boxing forward and out of the niche following it currently maintains. The door must be opened first.’
Send cards and letters asking for the induction to:
1 Hall of fame Drive
Canastota, NY 13032
I have included a short extract of a chapter in The Sweetest Thing about my time time meeting and training with Lucia. It’s called ‘The Human Animal’.
‘Luckily for me, when I finally met the most dangerous woman on the planet, her fighting days were over. I’d been hoping to simply run into Lucia Rijker at the Wild Card gym, but ultimately I had to engineer a meeting. Via e-mail we had agreed to a week of one-on-one training sessions at the LA gym in October 2009.
‘I arrived early for our first meeting and began skipping rope to warm up. I didn’t know what I was in for, but I was expecting something tough. I thought of those fierce arched brows I’d seen on YouTube and in documentaries, the deep concentration in her eyes, and the ruthless destruction that she had dished out in a lifetime of fighting. Over the years I had watched everything I could get my hands on. I’d watched Shadow Boxers countless times and, more recently, clips of some of her fights that had been uploaded. Even as the talent pool grew, Lucia continued to stand out. I was apprehensive, bracing myself for a hard week.
‘But the person who greeted me had an open and trusting expression, wide-set brown eyes, and distinctive, full lips that smiled warmly. I had just finished wrapping my hands when I saw, first, tight curls escaping from beneath a cap, then those unmistakable high, broad cheekbones, features she had inherited from her Surinamese father and Dutch mother. As I moved toward her, I was struck immediately by her easy geniality. I had been expecting someone intimidating, aloof, and a little stern. I think that at one time or another she had been all those things and more—but not anymore. The hand that had delivered fourteen knockouts extended toward me in friendship.’
To read more, you’ll have to buy the book.