NEW YORK – Heather Hardy will be the first one to admit it: she doesn’t feel that she’s a naturally gifted athlete. The 30-year-old junior featherweight prospect from the Gerritsen Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. wasn’t putting herself down, but rather acknowledging her own need to dedicate herself fully to the craft she picked up at the relatively late age of 27 if she is going to have a chance at achieving her dreams.
Hardy, whose record is 2-0, will try to extend her unbeaten streak on Saturday night at the Resorts World Casino in Queens, N.Y. against Ivana Coleman (0-3), of Slidell, La., in a scheduled four-round bout. The show, which is promoted by New Legend Promotions, will be the second boxing event hosted at the casino, which opened last year. Local heavyweight Vinny Maddalone (35-8, 26 knockouts) will headline the card against Byron Polley (25-13-1, 11 KOs), of Saint Joseph, Mo., in a ten-round bout.
Hardy works out at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, and in a figurative sense lives there.
“I’m at Gleason’s 15 hours a day,” said Hardy, who also works as a personal trainer when she isn’t prepping herself for a bout.
In a literal sense, her living situation is more complicated. On July 4 of this year, New York City power company Con Edison was working behind the building where she lived with her eight-year-old daughter. A live wire remained loose, and before long the house was in flames.
“We all ran over and sure as s__t the roof had caved in, there were a million fire trucks,” remembered Hardy of that day.
Hardy temporarily relocated to her mother’s home on the other side of town, but when Hurricane Sandy came through and devastated the metropolitan area’s coastal regions, Hardy’s mother’s home was left with seven feet of water damage.
“We’re twice over homeless living on my sister’s couch right now looking for an apartment,” said Hardy. “It’s been tough.”
Still, when Hardy makes the trip to Gleason’s to start her day, she checks her personal stresses at the door. Since the day she discovered boxing at the age of 27, the sport has served as her refuge from the difficulties of real life. Hardy remembers the first time she put on a pair of gloves after just three weeks of training and squared off against another woman. Most of all, she remembers winning.
“It was like a million puzzle pieces just came together, and I finally realized what I was supposed to be doing,” said Hardy.
Boxing had come around just at the right time for Hardy.
“I was in a bad marriage, I didn’t really have the best time growing up, I just didn’t know what I was around for, but I knew that I was around for something. I knew that there was going to be more to life than just waking up every day in this s___ty marriage, with a s___ty job, I knew that I was worth more and it wasn’t until I found boxing – as hard as it sounds – I knew it’s what I’m here for.
“Boxing saved my life, coming to Gleason’s Gym saved my life,” said Hardy. “I was in the middle of the dirtiest divorce and I felt like I had nothing left, this was all I could focus on. I was in a bad marriage, I didn’t really have the best time growing up, I just didn’t know what I was around for, but I knew that I was around for something. I knew that there was going to be more to life than just waking up every day in this s___ty marriage, with a s___ty job. I knew that I was worth more and it wasn’t until I found boxing – as hard as it sounds – I knew it’s what I’m here for.
Hardy, who had originally dabbled in kickboxing, found a kindred spirit in Gleason’s trainer Devon Cormack, a former two-division kickboxing champion. Cormack, whose sister is WBC female junior featherweight titleholder Alicia Ashley, helped corral the aggression and emotion which Hardy brought to the ring, and within six months guided her to the finals of the 2011 New York Daily News Golden Gloves at Madison Square Garden.
Hardy lost a close decision that night, but won the National Golden Gloves later that year and the following year won the NYDN Golden Gloves, earning the P.C. Richard and Son Best Woman Award along the way.
Hardy turned pro shortly after and has won two decisions in competitive, rugged fights since turning pro four months ago. Both fights were featured on DiBella Entertainment’s “Broadway Boxing” series. Donning the colors of her Irish heritage, she has brought a vocal, supportive crowd to both of her pro fights thus far.
Cormack says he’s happy with how far she has come along with limited experience.
“Heather is very focused to really deliver nice hard shots,” said Cormack. “But she’s starting to get more movement.”
Sparring with a current world titleholder in Ashley has helped speed along the learning curve.
“She holds her own with Alicia now,” Cormack says. “She gives a good fight to some of the top pros that she trains with, it’s just a little different when you have to put it in a competitive nature than in the gym.
“I think after this [fight] and another one to bring her up to six rounds, I’m sure within another year or a half she is fighting for something, whether it be the NY state or some other belt.”
Regardless of whether or not Hardy attains the in-ring success that Ashley and many others have from Gleason’s, she feels that finding a purpose in life is success in itself.
“People who live in my neighborhood usually stay in my neighborhood, nobody gets out and does things,” said Hardy. “For me to even have something that I’m this passionate about is an accomplishment in itself because lots of people go through life and they never feel passionate about anything.”
Photos / Ed Diller
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.