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Neida Ibarra

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At what age did you begin participating in boxing?

I was 16 years old the first time I stepped in the boxing gym. My brother was training and competing (amateur) at the time. I trained for about 1 year and, at the time, I wasn't really interested in competing. I did like how the training made me feel empowered and strong, but at the same time I was still in high school, hanging around with the wrong crowd and didn't have clear goals or much discipline. I stopped training because I got a part time job at a fast food restaurant, then I started training again at age 20. I had recently completed a college program for my CMA certification and began working at an internal medicine clinic. I was going to the gym and doing body building training and lifting weights to tone my figure. I found my old coach, Erica Jones, on Facebook and began training again. I am now 23 and have been training ever since! Of course, my training style has certainly changed. All the training I do benefits my boxing skill because being a good boxer doesn't necessarily mean having the biggest muscles.

What first made you want to participate in boxing?

My brother influenced me to start in the sport, and the challenge and confidence I gained made me stay. There is always something new you will learn every time you box. It's a sport that is constantly forcing you out of your comfort zone physically, and especially mentally. Boxing is a sport of extreme discipline that not many people can do or are able to stick with. Boxing gave me confidence and helped my self esteem. Because of these reasons I have stuck with it and have become addicted the sport.

What other sports did you play growing up? Any good stories about them?

I played soccer from elementary school up to my freshman year in high school. My mother forced me into the sport to keep me busy after school. Before I began playing soccer I didn't watch much sports because my dad was a musician and didn't care for sports, neither did my mother. I remember my first practice on the soccer field. I had no Idea what to do or what the rules were. I believe I was 8 years old; I must have hit the ball with my hand 20 times and passed the ball to the opposing team! As the years went by, my skills progressed and I enjoyed it. I always played mid defense because I was a fast runner.

I also played Volleyball in middle school, but I didn't care for it much. I think it was the fact the court was small and I was used to running and movement with soccer that I got bored in games. I mainly played because my friends were playing with me.

What were some of the challenges you faced? Early on? Now? As a woman?

Boxing is known as a "man's sport" and many older men I have come across still see it that way. I always get the questions, "Why boxing?" or "Why do you want to risk messing up your pretty face?"

Most of these questions come from men that have never stepped in the ring, so it's hard to explain the knowledge or feeling every boxer knows of why we do it, because only we have been through it. It still continues to be challenging with not many females in the sport. I train with guys who make me constantly have to prove myself and skills. It feels like even though women are training the exact same as men, we have to completely stand out to even get recognition and appreciation of our work. I think now with social media exposing female boxing, more people are becoming aware of the talented females in the sport that portray the same skills as male fighters.

Greatest moment/accomplishment in boxing?

I think my greatest moments are still to come! I am only in the beginning of my amateur career. My record is only 2-0 right now, with one win being the Oklahoma Golden Gloves title in my weight class (125lb). This will allow me to compete in the regional's tournament in March, then national's tournament in May. What I find the most gratifying is when I see my skills start coming together in sparring. Of course there is always work to be done, there will always be something to improve on, but it is nice seeing your hard work and drills come together like the missing pieces to a puzzle.

What keeps you going year after year?

The challenges in the sport keep me going. There is always something to improve on. The person boxing has molded me into makes me keep going. The feeling I get after training, the feeling stepping into the ring to face an opponent- there is no other feeling like it. The support I get from friends and family keep me going. Having the support of others believing in me and my skills, that encourages me to not let them down and believe in myself more. I think gratitude also plays a role, being appreciative for your health and what you have in life. Others in this world can only dream of having those non material things we take for granted every day.

Future plans within your sport?

Right now my focus is mainly on the Golden Gloves tournaments. I hope to compete in other tournaments between then, too. As I continue to compete and my skills improve, I am hopeful of the Olympics. There are very talented females fighters around the world. Without challenge there is no growth, because how do you know how good you really are? I think I will stay amateur; I really do not see myself turning professional at this point in time or any time soon.

Future plans outside of the sport, i.e. professional life, personal life?

I plan on continuing my education because I love learning. I am taking basic classes at TCC right now and then plan on going to a university. I'm leaning toward a degree in sports medicine and I would really love to work with athletes. I'm interested mostly in athlete performance and injuries. As of now I don't have my mind made up, yet. As I continue my education I will still be training, hopefully along the way in my boxing career I will come across some funding to help with school tuition!

How far has the sport of boxing come during the timeframe in which you have been involved?

The sport of boxing Is being more recognized since I started. I feel new technology such as the internet and social media are really exposing the sport more. Whether it's fighters participating in the sport or personal trainers incorporating boxing in their training programs, more and more people are becoming aware of the health benefits of boxing and are realizing that they can actually partake in boxing programs without having to compete.

Where would you like to see your sport be in the coming years?

I would like female boxing to become more widely known and be televised under big cards as they are in the MMA sports like UFC, etc. More people would be aware of women's boxing and talents, and I think it would be respected more. Women would actually be able to show their talent/skill across the world as the other big names in boxing do, like Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez. Hopefully it will get there in the coming years; there are great female boxers out there that I think are helping with the recognition of women in boxing now.  Especially females that have recently gone Pro like Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields, Seniesa Estrada and Mikaela Mayer, just to name a few female athletes. There are many more talented females out there!

What lessons have you taken from boxing that have helped you in your professional and personal life away from the gym?

I have taken many lessons from the sport. I feel most that I have become a different person because of boxing. I am a better person, more mature, and definitely more patient. I have learned the only way to reach your full potential in life and grow is to constantly be challenged. I learned this from boxing and have began applying it to my everyday life, whether it is work or school. I think it's important we face challenges with this type of mentality.  Challenges are difficult, but once we work on them and overcome them we take another step in reaching our full potential.

I have learned you have to work on things every day in order to conquer the challenges we face in life, and it will take time. You may not get something right the first time or be pleased with the outcome of what you're doing the first time. That's when your patience and understanding comes into play, knowing you must continue working on whatever task you are facing and over time it will be conquered.

What advice do you have for younger athletes coming up in boxing?

My advice for younger athletes coming up in boxing is to stay focused, hungry, and striving for success. Also, not to let the influence of others that don't share the same goals as them interfere with their training. There will be hard times, guaranteed, as in every sport and life. Push through the fatigue, tiredness, soreness. Push through the mental doubts in your head. Keep working, because that's what athletes do. Boxing is their craft and must be continually worked on. Most of all have fun with it, it has to be something you love and enjoy doing.

3 words to describe your sports journey. Discuss why you chose those 3 words.

Fortitude, grit, and consistency.

Fortitude, because boxing requires you step out of your comfort zone when your body is telling you to stop. When your mind is telling you stop, you have to dig deep and finish the task you have at hand. This feeling is very common for me, it's a constant battle of the mind.

Consistency, because without it there is no success. Being consistent with my training and working on my skills has been very difficult at times due to work and school, but it's something that has to be done. That applies to everyday life as well. With consistent effort there will always be improvement on whatever it is we are trying to accomplish.

Grit, because it's an overall mindset you must have. I recently read a book called GRIT by Angela Duckworth that expresses what grit ultimately is. The most successful athletes have the most grit. It's a combination of hard work and consistency, working hard every day no matter how you feel and not giving up, and staying positive and passionate about your goals.