Boxing had long been one of Kymmberli Stowe's many passions. She loved everything about the fight game, from the sweating in the gym to the mental aspects of the sport. So many in her family did as well.
Her uncle, Naazim Richardson, is one of the sport's premier trainers. Her brother, William "Bobcat" Boggs, was a decorated amateur and a promising professional prospect.
Stowe, though, was hardly a one-trick pony. Boxing wasn't her only option in life. She was president of her senior class in high school. She earned undergraduate degrees in political science and psychology from Millersville University. She has a master's degree in clinical psychology and another in business administration. She went through ROTC and became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
She's studying to be an attorney and dreams of becoming a politician. She competed in beauty pageants and won a Miss Pennsylvania title as part of the American Queen Pageant.
But on April 21, 2006, her interest in training, in fighting, in competing, melted away. Boggs, who had just won a fight a few weeks earlier to improve his professional record to 3-0, was shot nine times in the face and killed in a drive-by shooting.
Two men, Samaji Black and Haji Black, were later convicted of the crime. A third suspect was never caught and a fourth was acquitted but, on the very day of his acquittal, killed a 12-year-old boy. He was convicted of that crime and sits in a Pennsylvania prison.
Losing her brother was devastating for Stowe. She had sparred with him, and he'd always encouraged her to compete. She was the third-ranked amateur in her weight class at the time and was on the verge of big-time success, but without Bobcat, she no longer felt a connection to boxing.
"I learned from him knocking me in the head," she says now, chuckling. "He'd been yelling at me, 'Move your head! Move your head! Move your head!' He was so good, and understood the game so much, and taught me so much about it. When he was gone, I just didn't care any more.
"His murder just took all the fun out of boxing. We were so close. We did so much together. When that happened, I wasn't the same person. I just lost interest in boxing. I didn't care. I didn't want to do it without him."
One of Stowe's assets as a boxer had been her superior conditioning. Like she did with pretty much everything she attempted in life, she threw herself into training with a fury and was almost always the better conditioned fighter.
With her brother gone, she quit training and began to pack on the pounds. Her weight soared up and up and up, and nothing, it seemed, could stop it. And, to be honest, she didn't really care.
"My butt had spread like you wouldn't believe," she says. "I had gotten to 198 pounds. I was a big girl."
Things would change, however. Time helped heal some of the wounds, though hardly a day would pass without thoughts of Bobcat.
But on Aug. 13, 2009, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee announced that women's boxing would be part of the 2012 Games in London. And suddenly, Stowe's passion was re-stoked.
She vowed that she would honor her slain brother by making the U.S. Olympic team, fulfilling a dream they had shared together. They'd long spoken of her hope that women's boxing would someday be added to the Olympics.
Stowe was elated by the news, yet saddened by the fact that she couldn't share her excitement with her brother.
"I always wanted to see the day that this would happen and that women would have the same rights as men and could box in the Olympics, but I never really thought it would happen," she says. "It always seemed like such a distant dream. When it happened, I was elated. It was such a big thing for so many women. I can't even begin to tell you.
"For me to be able to be part of this now, it's mind-blowing."
Stowe won the 2010 women's national Golden Gloves championship and was the Ringside International champion. In 2011, she won her class in the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves tournament and took the gold at the Title National Championships. She's now 17-3 with nine KOs.
Stowe flew to Colorado Springs from her home in Philadelphia on June 19 to compete in the 132-pound weight class in the USA Boxing National Championships, one of three major qualifying tournaments for a spot in the Olympic Trials.
She was in shape and confident she would win. She had two two-hour training sessions each day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. At about 9 p.m. each night, she would meet her friend, former amateur boxer Frank Walker, by the Philadelphia Zoo and run a five-mile loop as he followed in a car, shouting encouragement.
Walker saw her number pop up on his phone on the 19th and quickly answered. He couldn't wait to hear how she'd won her opening match in Colorado.
But as she began to speak, Walker sensed something wasn't right.
"Her voice cracked and she was having a hard time talking and she sounded like she was about to cry," Walker says. "And so I said, 'Oh no, you lost?' And then she really bust out crying."
Stowe had missed weight and was disqualified.
That stunned Walker, as well as anyone who had seen Stowe push herself through excruciatingly difficult workouts in order to cut weight. When she left for the airport on Sunday, she was about 131 pounds, one pound under the limit.
There was bad weather in Philadelphia on Sunday morning, which first delayed her 6 a.m. departure and then forced cancellation of her flight to Denver. She was standby on several interim flights, but couldn't get on any of those. The flight she made was scheduled to leave Philadelphia at 6 p.m.
By the time she got to Denver, it was 10 p.m. Mountain time. She was supposed to fight the next day in Colorado Springs at 11 a.m.
That, she didn't think, would be a problem. But the weigh-ins were from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., so she had to be there by no later than 9. She had called USA Boxing officials and told them that she was in Denver, but was having problems getting to Colorado Springs.
A flight from Denver to Colorado Springs is about 40 minutes, but there were thunderstorms in the area and flights were grounded. She went to the car rental counters and figured she'd drive.
More bad news: All of the rental agencies were sold out.
An attendant at one of the agencies told her she could take a taxi, at a cost of around $300, or take a Greyhound bus. She took the bus.
That, though, wasn't simple, either. First, she had to take a city bus from the Denver airport to downtown Denver. Then, she had to hustle over to the Greyhound station, buy a ticket and hop on a bus for the ride to Colorado Springs.
By now, it was Monday morning and she was up against a deadline. She had to make the weigh-in or she would be disqualified. One of the coaches picked her up at the bus station and they raced to the weigh-in area.
She was frantically shedding her clothes as she raced to the scales. It was 8:59 a.m.
She got onto the digital scale with a minute to spare. As her weight was read, it seemed to take forever. Stowe closed her eyes. The woman checking her weight was aghast. Stowe is a member of the USA Boxing Board of Directors and knows just about everyone in the organization.
But the rules are the rules for everyone, even a fighter who is on the board.
"Oh my God, Kymmberli," the woman said. "I am so, so sorry."
Stowe lost her breath. It couldn't be right. The woman slowly read the weight. At first, all sounded well. One hundred thirty two, she began. Stowe breathed deeply. She wasn't sure what the problem was. Hitting 132 was right on weight.
But no. The woman wasn't finished announcing the number.
"Point four," the woman added. Stowe weighed in at 132.4 pounds. She was six ounces over.
"I can just go pee that out," Stowe said, pleading.
But the clock had struck 9. She was out of time. There would be no second chance. She was out of luck. She was disqualified.
"I just cried and cried and cried," she said. "There were so many emotions."
There would be two other shots to win a spot on the team, but Stowe desperately wanted to win her class and make Team USA. This would give her access to additional coaching and qualify her for international events. There is a huge advantage to making Team USA, but she wouldn't get the chance.
Her trainer, Derek "Bozy" Ennis, was stunned.
"She is an extremely hard trainer and I don't have to make her do anything," Ennis says. "She is a great worker and she just goes and goes and goes. The thing about it is, I felt she had a great chance to win this tournament and the last way I thought she'd be out was by missing weight.
"She is a tough girl. She loves to brawl and that's one of the things I'm always on her about. She can box, but she'll brawl you in a minute and I have to stay on her to keep her under control and get her to just box. But I just never thought she'd (lose her chance) by missing weight. That was just not right."
Stowe also fights for what's right. This was an injustice, although no one had done her wrong. Plenty had gone awry in her life – she'd been in foster homes, her brother had been murdered – but she could always speak up for herself.
So, she'll fight her way back, she insists, and try to make the Olympic team another way. She wears a picture of her slain brother on her boxing outfit to remind her why she's fighting.
She has two more opportunities to earn a berth in the Olympic Trials: at the National Golden Gloves finals July 3-10 in Port Charlotte, Fla., and at the National Police Athletic League national finals Oct. 3-8 in Toledo, Ohio.
There is a bigger fight, though, for Stowe, one that goes beyond her athletic ambitions. She's determined to become a politician and become a voice for the voiceless, an advocate for the less fortunate.
Her short-term dream is to make the Olympics. The long-term dream, though, is to run for a seat in the Pennsylvania state senate.
"I've always been a speak-up person," she says. "I've gone through life and had a lot of times where no one had spoken up for me. In life, so many people need a voice and have no one to speak up for them or look out for them. I was one of them. I was in foster homes. I was isolated. I know what it is like when no one hears you cry out for help.
"I want to fight for the people who aren't the top of the top and who aren't the cream of the crop. From the military, I learned that to be a good leader, you have to be an awesome follower. I've listened and I've learned and now I'm ready to go out there and fight and speak out for those who nobody hears and nobody cares about."
That, though, will have to wait. Her Olympic dream persists. Having come this far, Stowe isn't about to quit.
"I owe this to (my brother)," she said. "It was something we talked about. He wanted this for me and we worked together so hard. Now that I'm close, it's right there for me to grab it, that's what I'm going to do. When I finally make it, he's going to be right there with me. I know he will. He's at my side on this journey and I believe we're going to do this together."
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