Connecting with community: Boxing champ shares her skills, time with Kent club

Kent's East Hill Boxing Club got some high-end learning when Jennifer Hamann, Team USA's women's boxing champion, recently dropped by the gym.

Champion’s form: Seattle’s Jennifer Hamann throws a punch during a workout with young fighters at the Kent’s East Hill Boxing Club last week. Hamann’s visit to the local gym was an opportunity to give back to the boxing community.

Champion’s form: Seattle’s Jennifer Hamann throws a punch during a workout with young fighters at the Kent’s East Hill Boxing Club last week. Hamann’s visit to the local gym was an opportunity to give back to the boxing community.

Kent's East Hill Boxing Club got some high-end learning when Jennifer Hamann, Team USA's women's boxing champion, recently dropped by the gym.

Jennifer Hamann and her coach, Tricia Turton, trained with the club and worked with the after-school boxers on their technique at the Kent Phoenix Academy last week.

“I wanted to show that I'm a normal person, that I just busted my ass, and that they can do it too,” said Hamann, who just returned from an extended tour of training and fighting to earn the Women's Continental Championship.

But more than that, Hamann says her visit to Kent was an opportunity to give back to the community what everyone has invested in her – from free services and sponsors to her own teachers taking their time to train her.

When she's training with the U.S. team, she doesn't get the time to go back home and share what she's learned in the ring with others.

“I wanted to bring (that knowledge) back to my own team, to the boxing community,” Hamann, a featherweight fighter.

Starting with shadow boxing to work on feet and form, the training then splits into three groups to work with punching bags, in ring fighting and sparring. The key, Hamann said, was to focus on getting the new boxers used to the drills.

“Just coordinating your feet with your hands is easier said than done,” Hamann said. Instead of going for 100-percent accuracy, their goal was to train the students to get familiar with the motions so they can work on them more in the future.

Glen Hamada, the club's chief coach and a longtime boxing enthusiast and judge, said that meeting Hamann and Turton helped reinforce his ideas of commitment to the kids.

He said that Hamman “really had to sacrifice not only her time and commitment to become a very good student, but she had to take time out and really practice and commit to the sport of boxing.”

Hamann earned her degree at Seattle University, where she played soccer and competed in track and cross country.

Hamann's presence helped reinforce not only the boxing techniques, but the importance of being committed and disciplined to the sport – traits Hamada hopes to instill in his students.

“It tells the kids that education is very important. Look at the world champion, both of 'em, the Klitschko brothers (heavyweights). They both have PhDs, and they speak many foreign languages.”

Hamada, a retired Marine, says that the core tenants of the program are not designed to make kids great boxers, but to teach the students discipline, commitment and the importance of education in their lives.

“If you're committed to boxing, you're going to learn how to get committed to school studies,” he said. “When it comes time to write that report, you're not gonna wait. You're gonna be working on that term paper every day.”

Club continues to help youth

The East Hill Boxing Club is the result of work from Hamada and his wife, Leslie. There aren't a lot of places for youth in the area to go, Leslie said, and most of the activities in Kent are geared toward older crowds or children.

“I started on this journey to try to find a way to get kids who were economically on the edge. A lot of them might be making bad choices in their life,” she said.

So in 2007, she attended school board and City Council meetings to help establish the program. She negotiated insurance requirements from $10 million to $20 million and partnered with the city to help provide the coverage. After years of negotiations and haggling, Leslie got her wish.

The Hamadas worked out an agreement between the Kent School District and the city to use the small gym space at Phoenix Academy, and have progressively outfitted it over the last three years to become an improvised but respectable training gym. Starting with a bare gym with hardwood floors, the Hamadas have added five punching bags, safety mirrors, a speed bag and a full-sized training ring from Title Boxing.

While the program has been successful, Leslie says that it still struggles a little financially.

“It's hard to keep the program running,” she said, estimating she's written 10 grants over the last three years and reached out to countless contacts in the community. They are close to securing a non-profit designation from the IRS, which would open access to gang intervention funds and other federal dollars, but Leslie isn't banking only on that.

“I think we really need to be thinking out of the box right now because our funds are drying up everywhere,” she said, “And it's more important than ever to partner for things that are after-school programs that help kids succeed. “

She thinks that it needs to be viewed as an investment. She says the program has gotten three kids back into school, and one of their students graduated after dropping out.

“It's not a lot of numbers but if you can touch one kid at a time, it makes a difference,” she said.

“You wouldn't think that a boxing program can get kids to go back to school but it can.”

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