“It’s not just about me anymore,” acknowledges Esparza at the gym, between rounds of shadowboxing. Then a buzzer rings and she starts punching again. Watching Esparza in her gloves and purple tank top and sparkling scarlet Nike boxing boots, her ponytail bouncing as she weaves and ducks and pistons her fists in the air, I find myself feeling sorry for her imaginary opponent. Esparza has talked about accessing her anger in the ring, but the expression on her face is not rage, at least not entirely. There is something mournful, too. It is as if her invisible opponent has wronged her, and she is determined to exact revenge.
Then it’s over. She takes off the gloves and tape, and is again her giggling, playful self. I ask her what goes through her head when she is boxing.
“It’s a feeling of being free,” she says. “The headgear is like a mask. When you put it on, you feel like you can do anything. You’re not even you anymore.” She points to the ring. “When I’m in there,” she says, “I can do whatever I want.”
Since I started boxing last year, I haven’t been all that clued up on professional and amateur boxing on an international level. But this year, since women’s boxing will be introduced to the Olympics for the first time, I’ve made an effort to find out about some of the women who’ll be taking to the stage, and wow, these women are all so incredible and powerful that you can’t help but feel a sense of pride as a woman yourself when you realize that nothing is impossible, and these women have proven that much (and more) through their time and dedication to a sport that doesn’t get as much attention as I think it ought to have.
This is Marlen Esparza, the flyweight representative from America, and this is her story.