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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: Boxing is not for everyone, nothing truer said. But it’s Courtney Feldheim’s sport. Here’s why. | COMMENTARY

Amateur boxer Courtney Feldheim works on her jabs and hooks with trainer Warren Boardley early mornings at the Mack Lewis Gym in East Baltimore.

Let’s get right to it: Why boxing? Why not tennis or the sport at which you really excelled back in high school, badminton? If you want a contact sport, why not football? Baltimore has a women’s team, the Nighthawks; they block and tackle in full protective gear, including face mask.

So let’s hear it, Courtney Feldheim: As an amateur, you wear head protection when you fight. But still, why boxing?

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Yeah, every other person asks that question.

Pardon me for being like every other person, but I saw Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” and that was the greatest tragic movie I’ll never watch again. Why take up a sport that involves getting punched on purpose?

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A lot of my friends who saw me as a 6th grade math teacher couldn’t understand why I wanted to do this at all. They thought they knew me.

You grew up in Towson, went to Bryn Mawr, the private girls school. You played tennis and badminton.

I was ridiculously good at badminton.

You went to Franklin and Marshall College and played tennis there. After college and back in Baltimore, you were teaching math at Bryn Mawr. I can see how your friends might have been shocked when you put on gloves and stepped through the ropes. You’ve been at this for 12 years now. Why boxing?

It has shown me a strength and a courage I never knew I had. People didn’t think I could, didn’t think I should, and I had a chip on my shoulder, something to prove. … I don’t think boxing is the greatest sport for everyone.

Nothing truer said.

But it’s my sport. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and undeniably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done because of what it takes to do it. What it showed in me was super powerful. It gave me stress relief, anxiety relief. It gave me fitness, it gave me a drive.

Back in 2010, you and your new husband, C.J., were living in Locust Point. You say something traumatic happened?

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My dad suddenly left my mom, it was a complete blindside. ... I felt someone had pulled the rug out from under me, like everything I believed in wasn’t true.

And that’s when you signed up for a boxing class at your athletic club?

“I had so much anger toward my dad. ... I was standing in front of the mirror. I barely knew which hand was my jab and which was my cross, and I looked at [the teacher] and said, ‘I want to compete, I want to fight.’

And you’ve been training and competing as an amateur ever since. You left teaching in 2012 to become a personal trainer and to pursue boxing. You train for amateur fights with Warren Boardley at the Mack Lewis Boxing Gym in East Baltimore. He says you have good physical skills, good boxing fundamentals and, unlike the men and boys he coaches, you listen to what he says. You learned about strategy.

I love the science of boxing. In chess, you get time to think three moves ahead. Boxing is an instant, constant chess match that’s in your face, and you pay for your mistakes immediately and it’s unrelenting in that way. I have to think about your moves before you make them or I have to make you make them. I can make you jab at me so that I can step out and hit you with a cross. I can make you jab at me so that I can duck underneath and get you with a body shot.

Your dad came back to your mom after less than a year, and you say that was traumatic, too. Where are things now with you, your parents and boxing?

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While my dad was gone, my mom wanted to know why I liked boxing so much, so I brought her to the gym to hit [punch] mitts with me and punch the heavy bag and speed bags. When my dad came back home, he started joining her for sessions and that one-on-one time with me on the mitts made us communicate and begin to repair our relationship. ... When you hold [strike] pads for someone, you have to talk to them, call out the punches, make corrections. When I held for my dad, I had to look at him, speak to him, teach him, and I even began to enjoy it. Sure, I took a few halfhearted swings at him. The communication lines were dusted off and we started to share something once again. Boxing helped my anger when he left and it helped me when he came back.

How does your husband feel about this?

Well, he married a 6th grade math teacher, right?

Yeah, not a boxer.

We talked about my fighting pro, but both agreed that, without headgear, we weren’t comfortable with the risks.

In October, you went to Atlantic City for the New Jersey Masters Tournament and won the 35-and-over women’s welterweight division. They gave you a bright red championship belt. How does your son Cole feel about his mom being a fighter?

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The best moment I’ve had in boxing was winning the tournament in front of Cole. Having him there was absolutely incredible. He took that belt to first grade and let all his friends hold it.


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