By Jerry Del Priore
There’s no denying that, in order to compete in the bloodlust world of boxing, you need plenty of fire, guts and gumption, along with ample athletic talent.
But when you factor in out-of-the-ring adversity, that’s when you get to see what an athlete’s really made of as their real-life mettle gets tested to the max.
I have compiled a list of three inspirational Broolyn boxers who have thrived in the ring despite their out-of-ring obstacles.
When professional boxer Daniel “the Miracle Man” Jacobs beat Jarrod Fletcher for the vacant WBA World Middleweight Championship on Saturday, August 9, 2014 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, he became the first cancer survivor to capture a world title.
Almost five years ago, in May of 2011, doctors diagnosed the then-24-year-old Brownsville, Brooklyn native with osteosarcoma-a life-threatening form of bone cancer.
The 29-year-old Jacobs’ road to the Championship was anything but easy, as he recalled bleaker times during which the feeling of helplessness and self-doubt crept in while in the hospital.
In addition, a piece of cracked spine resulted in partial lower body paralysis and a great deal of pain, not to mention an arduous rehab process.
“There was a time when I was laying in a hospital bed, and I didn’t think I could do it,” the then-27-year-old admitted. “I cried in the dark.”
In 2012, Jacobs (30-1-27KOs) used his life experiences and growing celebrity status to help form the Get in the Ring Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to help families who are struggling financially with medical expenses for their cancer stricken children, and to combat childhood obesity and bullying in schools.
There’s no denying that Heather “the Heat” Hardy is one tough pugilist and overall woman. She used to jump in the middle of her ex-husband’s bar brawls. Hardy’s competitive attitude guided her to kickboxing, which eventually led her to a regular boxing ring.
She juggled multiple jobs and the duties of being a single mother while pursuing a shot of becoming a pro boxer. It wasn’t trouble-free, though.
Just a month before she turned pro in August of 2012, a fire destroyed her apartment and all of her worldly possessions.
The fire forced Hardy to move back to her childhood home. But devastation would strike again. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy paid an unwelcomed visit to her family’s home in Gerristen Beach, leaving destruction in its wake.
Hardy lacked a permanent residence for a little under a year, but continued to train throughout all the turmoil.
The Brooklyn-born prizefighter finally found a place in September, near her training grounds, the legendary Gleason’s Gym, where she worked tirelessly in order to perfect the craft of the sweet science.
On Novemeber 9th, 2013, the time and effort paid off as Hardy (15-0, 3 KOs) won the vacant Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) female super bantamwieght title, and later captured the World Boxing Commission (WBC) international female super bantamweight strap on October 15, 2014.
Professional boxer Frank “Notorious” Galarza knows what it’s like to buck the odds as a youngster. Galarza’s father died when he was just seven years old after a gunshot wound to the leg caused health-related complications. Two years later, at the age of nine, his mother lost her life due to a drug overdose.
His aunt and uncle took him in prior to their deaths and managed to keep him focused enough to graduate high school, with the help of boxing, which he took up at 17, he noted.
But Galarza couldn’t escape the pitfalls of the mean streets, admittedly battling with his inner demons throughout his youth.
“It was a struggle because I was confused. I was really lost,” the junior middleweight recollected. “I found myself heavy in the streets, and being involved in drugs—selling drugs. And being involved in crimes and violence.”
Though Galarza realized the street life wasn’t for him, getting arrested at 15 and 17 for robbery, he didn’t have a clear plan mapped out for himself at the time, causing him to fall back into his old ways.
Unfortunately, Galarza’s watershed moment came at the expense of a near-tragic incident while engaging in an illegal, precarious activity.
“I was trying to make a sale, and I got robbed,” he candidly said of a drug deal gone wrong. “Right there, I knew I needed to change my life.”
After giving up boxing at 18, the Brooklyn native returned to the sport at 24. His trainer didn’t take him seriously at first, but he won the 2010 Golden Gloves tournament in the 165-pound novice division. It helped cement his decisions to live clean and turn pro.
The 30-year-old highly-touted prospect sports an impressive record of 17-1-2 (9 KOs).
Wanting to give back, Galarza has developed the Youth Fighting Forward program, a fledgling non-profit that combines boxing, education and youth services for at-risk Brooklyn children.