Friday April 10th, 2015

The morning after going through a grueling 16-round marathon sparring session, Heather Hardy is worn but ever chipper, skipping rope in a sparse area at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn Heights. The floor is buzzing with activity and chatter over the bell that rings on an endless three-minute, one-minute cycle. Hardy has already put in three hours of training private clients before turning focus to her upcoming fight on April 11 at the Barclays Center. It will be her second appearance on what she considers her home court. 

Last June, Hardy, a native of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn, defeated Jackie Trivilino on a majority decision in the first professional women’s boxing match at the Barclays. At 5’ 5” and weighing in at 122 pounds, “the Heat” will face Renata Domsodi on the undercard of a main event between light welterweights Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson.

Hardy’s path to the ring would be considered unorthodox. Going through a divorce in 2010, she walked into a neighborhood gym to try out a kickboxing class. Three short weeks later, she was in the ring winning her first fight and falling in love with the exhilaration of the crowd and the lights. She caught the attention of Devon Cormack, a trainer at Gleason’s who guided his sister, Alicia Ashley, to a WBC World Title, and Hardy quickly made her mark on the female boxing scene, going pro in 2012.

Sarah Kwak for Sports Illustrated

A single mother to a 10-year-old daughter, Hardy has long juggled jobs to make ends meet, to fuel her new passion and give Annie a better life. With a roster of about a dozen clients—boxers for fitness, mostly—she makes time to train, hoping to capture a world title.

Hardy walked us through a typical training day at Gleason’s, which she supplements with a rigorous strength and conditioning program three times a week.

  • 1
    1Warm-up/Skip rope
    Five 3-minute rounds
    She usually forgoes the minute break between rounds and jumps rope continuously. In addition to in-the-gym training, though, she augments her cardio routine with frequent runs. She mixes things up, sometimes sprinting hard for two miles and other times opting for a more leisurely “watch-the-birds” run.

  • 2
    2Shadow Boxing
    Five 3-minute rounds
    After getting her hands wrapped, Hardy enters the ring alone but practices as if she were facing another fighter. She uses the time to focus on her technique—whether it be footwork or the angles of her wrists when she should make contact. “It’s practice without getting hit,” she says.

  • 3
    3Slip ball
    Five 3-minute rounds
    She moves over to a small bag that hangs from the gym’s high ceiling. Positioning herself so her head is right by the bag, she gently swings what resembles an oversized teardrop pendant. As the bag moves back and forth, she punches the air while maneuvering her head and body around its path. The exercise helps her positioning and awareness, as she quickly moves her head just as the bag swishes by.

  • 4
    4Double-end bag
    Five 3-minute rounds
    Next to the slip ball is another leather-bound ball—chest-high—that is attached to one rope from the ceiling and another from the floor. The effect is a target that bounces back, like a rubber band. For three rounds, Hardy works on the rhythm of her punches, getting the timing just right as the ball bounces back at her. The ball, no larger than a melon, also serves to help the accuracy of her hits, as she focuses to hit a small target that moves violently and unpredictably.

  • 5
    5Ring time with trainer Cormack
    Five 3-minute rounds
    The most important part of her routine, she climbs back into the ring with Cormack, who wears a pair of padded hand targets. They work on technique and body positioning, as he moves, challenges and critiques her form. On this day, the pair spend extra time on her hooks, keeping her motion compact yet powerful without leaving herself vulnerable to her opponent.

  • 6
    6Heavy bag
    Five 3-minute rounds
    To finish up, Hardy moves over to one of five body bags hanging from the ceiling. This is the time to work on power, throwing strong punches at the bag, which weighs as much as she does.

  • 7
    7Core work
    Five 3-minute rounds
    If all that wasn’t enough, Hardy finishes her routine with ab work, doing full-body crunches on a massage table. More than any other muscle group, she says, a strong core fuels her success in the ring.

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