National competitor takes gloves off

Tyler McNeil

Creative Editor

After competing on the national stage of amateur boxing, 31-year-old Natasha Jefferson has entered the next round in her life at Hudson Valley.

In 2010, the amateur boxer rose to claim the number seven spot within the 141-pound women’s weight division in USA Boxing. She went to the quarterfinals that year in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center where she was defeated in a close call by Brittany Inkrote from Red Lion, Penn.

Unlike Jefferson at the time, Inkrote had five years of boxing under her belt before competing in the nationals competition.“You can’t doubt yourself,” she added about the competitor, “you just learn as you go. Boxing takes years and years and years to perfect.”

Jefferson’s latest fight is 50 hours each week at work and over 12 credits at Hudson Valley.

Currently in her last semester in the physical education program, she will graduate from Hudson Valley for the second time in 13 years.

She previously graduated in 2001 with an Associate’s Degree in Human Services. This time, Jefferson plans to transfer to Russell Sage for two more years of health sciences starting in January.

She said her new career path was greatly influenced by boxing. “Being around athletes refreshed my route. I’ve always loved working out and being healthy so I feel like being a personal trainer would be the only route for me. After college, she sets out to work for insurance companies promoting health and wellness promotion”, she said.

Although Jefferson originally set out to attain a regular workout, she starting training in the sport at the age of 25 when her current coach Jerrick Jones persuaded her. After training for about a year at the Quail Street Gym in Albany, Jefferson took to the ring in the Capital Region and beyond.

In the beginning of her training, “I started out focusing on fundamentals. My coach would say ‘throw the jab 50 times, lower your shoulders, keep your chin tucked,’” she said.

In the heat of her amateur career, her training was composed of shadowboxing for five rounds, throwing jabs at the Quail Street punching bag for ten rounds, sparring, jump roping, and running for four to six miles about six days a week.

Along with nationals, Jefferson has competed in the Empire States competition where she won a silver medal, and has competed in Golden Gloves twice but lost.

Aside from competing with boxers, she also has to battle with sexism. “It’s difficult. I’m sick of hearing, ‘oh, you’re too pretty to box’. It makes me want to do it more,” said Jefferson.

“It’s just me and the other person in the ring so the outcome, either winning or losing is whatever I put into it. I just love the challenge being a woman in a male dominated sport,” she said.

She believes boxing is important in providing women with confidence, as well as improving the foundation for youth development. When children enter the Quail Street Gym, they are required to show respect to Jones, such as greeting the coach, shaking their opponents hand, stabilizing malevolent behavior and using formality.

Jefferson explained, “It’s one of the best workouts. Even with children, it helps with focus and respect. I think it overall helps with building character in kids.”

Over the duration of five years, Jefferson trained competitively but now the former athlete works out for leisure due to school and work encroaching on her time.

Aside from boxing, the competitor is no stranger to athletics. She competed in high school at Averill Park for four years in track and played soccer for nine years. She said, “Track has been the greatest workout of my life.”

Since the age of 19, Jefferson has worked in health services, working in Vanderheyden Hall for about nine years. Her aspirations to help the mentally impaired stem from her upbringing. Her mother worked with a mentally disabled little girl. “Just being brought up around it. I really like to advocate for these people,” said Jefferson.

Jefferson spars with the mental health of others 50 hours a week. She currently works as a behavior health assistant at Samaritan Hospital’s mental health unit in Troy, “It’s mental health. I have my own and it’s very stressful. With [boxing] it’s my release. It’s my therapy.”

She goes to Albany to train about five days every week at the end of her shifts at 11 p.m. She exercises in the ring two of those days.

Despite her schedule, boxing is still a priority to Jefferson. At Hudson Valley, Jefferson currently takes a circuit fitness course which incorporates elements of boxing. An advanced boxing course has recently been added to the college’s course set, and will start in the spring 2015 semester.

She remains loyal to boxing despite the growing popularity of mixed martial arts. “I’m not into the grappling aspect, I’d rather just punch you in the face,” she laughed.

Jefferson elaborated on the waning popularity of boxing across the nation due to the emergence of MMA. “It’s shifting. Boxing’s not in the limelight as it used to be. It’s unfortunate. People like the craziness of MMA.”

Jefferson has trained in the presence of former-boxer-turned mixed martial artists native to the Albany arena such as welterweight UFC competitor Roger Zapato, signed to UFC in 2013.

“We have a lot of great competitors coming out of Albany,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson considers UFC mixed martial artist and former boxer Holly Holmes a model athlete for fighters in any arena. “I just like her technique and she’s very skilled but not wild,” she said.

Jefferson considers her best attribute in the sport to be footwork, and said that technique outweighs strength. She said about boxing technique, “It’s like a chess game, like a science game, trying to figure out what they’re going to do next.”

The amateur boxer grew up a Baptist, but has gained an interest in following her Islamic roots since her father, Robert Jefferson of Newark, N.J. died the same year she advanced to number seven in her division nationwide.

Family remains an important element to Jefferson’s life. Having been raised by a single mother, Jefferson commented, “[My mother is] my number one supporter and wants me to continue”.

Her grandfather refuses to watch her compete, “I guess it’s because I’m her little granddaughter,” she said.

Jefferson’s experience in boxing will continue to help her as she advances in her career. “[Boxing] is always there. I have to pay my bills and I have to stay in shape,” she said.

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