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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 7, 2002 - Issue 69


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Where Few Women Dare to Tread

by Dottie Potter Lakota Journal
Boxing GloveRAPID CITY, SD — Boxing was once considered “The manly art of self-defense,” but a young Oglala Lakota woman is changing that perception.

Tawanna Martin, 17, has been boxing since near the end of her freshman year in high school.

“I was starting to kind of get in trouble during my 9th grade—I didn’t like school—I was bored and needed a challenge. It was Tim O’Daniel—my Mom’s friend who got me started in boxing and I loved it,” Martin said. Her mother is Michelle Bissonette.

O’Daniel was also a boxer and helped steer the teenager in a direction that he thought might be helpful. It seems that his idea and guidance was the answer to help turn the young woman’s life around and get her on the right path.

Martin, who does not even know where her real father is, said of O’Daniel, “He’s like a father figure to me—he’s coached me and worked out with me—he encourages and supports me all the way.”

She explained that he has taken a job as Director of Corrections in Red Wing, Minnesota so he’s not able to work with her on a daily basis as before, but calls her often and checks on her schedule and progress to make sure that she’s working out. She also spent a couple of weeks training with him in Red Wing this summer.

“I’m a gym rat—I go work out every day,” Martin said with a laugh.

She also said that she’s one of the few who are that committed. Martin runs two and a half miles early every morning and is working to increase that to three miles. She explained that during her run time, she sprints as far as she can, then she does a slow jog and then back to sprinting again. Martin goes to the gym every night and sometimes during the day as well.

Since O’Daniel moved out of state, Eddie Martinez has been her head coach. Martin was currently training for a competition match taking place in Kansas City the end of August.

“I’m excited and looking forward to that even though I know the other boxers there will probably have more experience than me. Because I just turned 17 in July, I’ll still be in the amateur competition and fight as a novice in that category,” Martin said.

She explained that Ringside, a large company that supplies boxing gear, is sponsoring the Kansas City open competition and they expect 500 or more participants from all over the country for the two day event. Ages will range from late teens up to 34 and they’re scheduled for two matches a day.

“I’ve only had six or seven fights—I don’t get that many matches because there’s not very many female boxers,” Martin said.

One of her recent fights was at the Buffalo Chips during the Sturgis Rally and she said, “I fought a 20-year old from Canada and she was way more experienced than I am—and basically I got my butt beat!”

It was the first and only time that she’s had a bloody nose, but Martin said that she learned a lot from her opponent—more than any of her other fights. The match was three, two-minute rounds.

“I’ve not had any black eyes yet and if I’m training hard, I won’t get hurt so I don’t worry about that. You get out of it what you put into it,” Martin said.

When asked if other young people were intimidated by her when they meet her because she is a boxer, her response was, “I don’t go around punching anyone—the only time I fight is when I’m in the ring and I don’t like or want to be cocky about my boxing—I just try to work hard and do the best I can.”

The personable young woman boxed earlier in the year at the “Lakota Nation Invitational” which is statewide competition and also at the Jr. Olympics at McLaughlin in May where she won the match.

She traveled to Albuquerque for the Native American National summer tournaments and spent a week there.

Her last fight was in McLaughlin where she said, “I got robbed—it was such unfair judgement. I lost the match to a girl who wasn’t good at all—she was from North Dakota and all she would do is hang on to me—it was really hard to try to keep pushing her away and get my punches in, but if the judges had given any credit for jabs—I would have won.”

Martin is currently at 139 pounds and boxes in the “welterweight” division, but said that she needs to lose some weight.

“My goal and my trainer also tells me that I need to get down to 125 pounds because I’m only 5 feet 5 inches tall and that’s pretty short for a boxer,” Martin said.

She said that her mother had trouble watching her fight in her first match because of her fear that her daughter would be hurt, but when she learned that Tawanna knew how to protect herself, she goes to each match and enjoys watching her in the ring.

Martin is not the first in her family to participate in boxing. Her maternal grandfather was the late Pedro Bissonette who was also a boxer. “My grandma, Helen Palmer, likes to come and watch me fight because she says that it reminds her of my Grandpa when he was boxing,” Martin said. Her grandfather was also active in the AIM movement and she said he was shot and killed by the FBI during the Wounded Knee confrontation in the 1970’s.

“Boxing is good for me because I love a challenge and it’s a sport where you can push yourself to the limits,” Martin said.

She’s also extremely busy with other activities. In addition to her strenuous workouts and training every day to stay in shape for boxing, Martin is in the JROTC program at Central High School where she will soon begin her senior year.

Martin has been in the JROTC program since her freshman year and plans to enter the military after graduation next spring.

“I was considering joining the Marines, but decided they’re too hard core—I’m going to stick with the Army,” she said.

“It’s (JROTC) a great class. I really like it and it helps you if you go into the Army—you go in at a higher rank and another $200 a month in pay,” Martin explained.

Her goal is to continue boxing in the military and pursue training as a medic or a helicopter pilot. “While I was at camp this summer, I got to ride in a Black Hawk. It was really fun and I liked it,” Martin said.

She said they have a camp every summer for one week and even though it’s a military atmosphere, they have a fun time and learn many new things.

“My JROTC classes are the only ones where you can use all of it out in the world—everything you learn, you can apply to your every day life. I’ve learned self-discipline, leadership skills, people skills, history, map reading and so much more,” Martin said.

They have class every day and cover different sections and topics. They have a briefing every two weeks and reports go to the principal and counselors.

“There’s a lot of students in the class at the beginning of the year, but then it thins out—there’s about 150 in the whole program,” she said.

Between studies, JROTC classes and training in addition to her boxing schedule and training program, Martin said that dating is kind of put on the back burner, but that she has many friends and meets new people everywhere she goes.

She said the clothes and equipment for boxing get rather expensive, plus her travel expenses when she goes to tournaments or out-of-state matches, such as the one in Kansas City, but the family makes sacrifices in other ways.

And, Martin has several trophies and awards to show for her accomplishments at such a young age.

“I hope to continue to box as long as possible—I love the sport—the challenge and the people I get to meet, but it’s so much more that the trophies that I win—it’s the experience and the satisfaction of winning,” she concluded.

(c) Lakota Journal 2002

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