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Female boxer ‘comfortable’ with sport

SEATTLE – Vanessa Rojas knows what you think.

“Apparently, I don’t look like a boxer – however, I feel like a boxer,” said Rojas, 20, of Seattle.

On a recent evening, she was the only woman practicing at White Center PAL Boxing Gym – although that’s not always the case.

She started learning to box at Sea Mar Youth Boxing in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle while still in middle school. Her parents were not initially on board.

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“They just see it as your gender. Sports for boxing, is normally for men,” they told her.

“After I tried out for gymnastics and I tried out for softball, I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable with it, and I feel more comfortable with boxing.”

Vanessa Rojas and her sparring partner put petroleum jelly on their skin so that their skin doesn't get torn or scraped during practice in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times)

Vanessa Rojas and her sparring partner put petroleum jelly on their skin so that their skin doesn’t get torn or scraped during practice in Seattle. (Bettina Hansen/Seattle Times)

She joined White Center PAL Boxing Gym a few years ago. It’s a community youth boxing gym started by the Police Activities League in 2004, and now coach Tony Rago runs it out of the old handball courts at Steve Cox Memorial Park in White Center with fellow coach Keith Weir.

“Her style is more of a straight-up boxer – she doesn’t do a lot of fancy footwork, not a lot of hot doggin’; she likes to stay right up in your face and box with you,” said Rago.

“She’s got all the punches down, she’s got all the moves, but she needs to learn to keep her head up,” said Rago. “She tends to dive in with her head first and then that’s when she gets hit the most.”

Rojas prepared herself quietly with a little jump rope and some light shadowboxing before “The Moment of Truth,” the most recent amateur tournament held by White Center PAL Boxing.

The gymnasium inside Evergreen High School in Burien is transformed to look and feel like a pro show – with the lights down, music pumping and the roller-coaster swells of supporters cheering on their boxers.

“Ever since I lost my first fight, I told myself that won’t happen again,” Rojas said. For White Center, she had lost one and won four bouts up to that point.

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“When I’m in the ring, I feel like I’m a goddess. I feel like I’m honest.”

Boxing out of the blue corner, Rojas wore down Renada Walcome of the University of Washington boxing club in the 125-pound weight class and won on points.

After the bout, her mom, sister, niece and other family members were waiting to congratulate her and take pictures as Rojas held up her trophy in one hand and index finger raised in a number one on the other.

Her time to train at White Center PAL hinges on her career – Rojas recently got her degree in Culinary Arts from South Seattle College and is on the hunt for more restaurant experience, which will affect her schedule.

For now, the challenge and support she has got at the gym over the past few years have kept her coming back.

“It builds my spirit and it encourages me to go further.”

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