When Mary Nguyen stepped into the boxing ring at the 2015 Pathway to Glory Olympic Qualifier in Baltimore, Md., it was a chance for a lot of hard work and preparation to pay off. Yet while winning was a goal, simply having the opportunity to compete made the event a success to her. “Not a lot of people have this chance,” says Mary, who works as a physical therapist in Acute Care Therapy at Cox South.
So even though she wasn’t officially declared victorious in her preliminary bout on Sept. 8, she doesn’t have any regrets. “It was a great experience,” says Mary of the fight, in which she boxed the woman currently ranked third in the world in their weight category. “I felt like I was really able to fight my fight.”
Mary’s journey as a flyweight boxer began three years ago. However, it wasn’t this Republic native’s first attempt at the sport. “I did walk into a boxing gym when I was 17, broke my arm the next week and never walked back,” says Mary.
A decade later, she got into the ring and decided to stay. At first, it was because it offered her a chance to stay in shape and keep competitive. But now she’s reaped other benefits that she wasn’t initially aware of. “It helps me with my social anxiety a little bit,” says Mary. “Because in boxing, you’re up on a stage and it’s just you.”
While it’s true that matches require solo work, that’s not what it’s like during training. “The way we do it at our gym, it’s more like a family and it is like a team,” says Mary, who now trains at Smitty’s Mid-West Boxing Gym in Springfield. “We train together, we work together. We push each other. Yes, I’m performing by myself, but they’re always there with me.”
At 5’3” and less than 115 pounds, Mary says she regularly surprises people when she mentions she boxes. “When people think of boxers, they think of this big, burly man. They don’t realize that there are smaller weight classes and a lot of people don’t even realize that females do box.”
Those reactions reflect a bigger issue. While women definitely box, it’s true that there isn’t an abundance of them in the sport – leaving Mary few people to practice with. “It is frustrating,” says Mary. “I feel like I spend a lot of my time training and not a lot of time competing.”
That lack of competition is a new thing for Mary. In high school, she was a member of the school’s basketball, softball and track teams. Later, as a student athlete at Southwest Baptist University, she played center field on the U.S. Athletes International team. She’s learned over the years that all sports require dedication and determination – but she’s also found that when it comes to difficulty, boxing wins hands down.
“It’s so much different than any other sport out there,” she says. “People say, ‘Oh, two-minute rounds. That’s no big deal.’ A two-minute round seems like a lifetime.”
While getting through the physical – and mental – aspects of the sport can be challenging, Mary says she has great inspiration. “My big motivator is honestly my patients. There are so many people out there who wish they could do physically what I’m getting the chance to do.”
A message from Mary
“Thank you to all my friends, family, co-workers and CoxHealth for being in my corner as I took my shot at the Olympic qualifier.
I dropped the decision to a humble and very worthy opponent. Although I did not come out with the win, the experience has been great.”