Even Tiffanie Ward can’t explain it.
She has a degree in business economics, a good job, a laid-back nature, and is planning for an April wedding.
And, oh yeah, she spends her free time trying to punch people in the face.
What began as a diversion after knee injuries ended her college basketball career will come full circle this week for Ward. That’s when the 28-year-old former basketball standout at Skyview High School will compete in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Boxing Olympic Trials.
Yes, women’s boxing is now an Olympic sport. And the trials for the U.S. team begin Monday in Spokane.
And yet, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Because this isn’t about the latest addition to the Olympic calendar; it’s not even about the nature of women’s boxing; it’s more about the unlikely evolution of a refined woman who gets her athletic fix by trying to hit others more often than they hit her.
“The typical reaction would be they probably wouldn’t believe it,” Ward said about old friends learning of her current avocation. “I don’t have a fighter’s veneer. I think I just naturally am more of a gentle person. People wouldn’t see me as an overly aggressive person.”
Yet there she was, finishing third in her weight class at the 2010 U.S. Championships. And there she was, finishing fourth at last year’s nationals to earn a trip to the Olympic Trials.
The winners in Spokane will represent the United States in May at the World Championships in China, where the top eight competitors in each of the three weight classes will qualify for the London Games.
“You would never ever ever think she could box,” said David Imoesiri, Ward’s fiancé and an amateur boxer himself. “She’s normal. She’s a 9-to-5er. When I first saw her, I could tell she didn’t have a lot of experience, but she had a lot of raw talent.”
Did you catch that? Did you see how he tried to sneak that in there? Imoesiri said Ward is normal, as if that is something rare in the world of boxing.
And it probably is. It’s probably as rare as somebody taking up the sport in their 20s yet developing into an Olympic contender.
But Ward is 5-foot-11, and she was a Division I basketball player. After two years at Portland State, she transferred to the University of California Riverside, where her knees got the best of her.
After two surgeries, “The doctor said, ‘Choose a different career. Basketball is not going to be good for you.’ ”
And that’s the part where the story gets murky. That’s the part even Ward is unable to explain.
She graduated college, landed her job as a project analyst for Southern California Edison, and found herself spending time in the gym.
“I have an uncle in Seattle who was involved a little with boxing, but I wasn’t really around it,” she said. “I just loved it, so it wasn’t difficult to get in the gym. The big difference is that it’s not a team sport. I’m the only one who can keep me from getting to the level I want to.”
That, perhaps, is the best explanation for how Tiffanie Ward ended up on the cusp of a trip to the Olympics. She’s athletic, she’s driven, she thrives under the solitary demands of boxing.
“I’m there to display my skills,” she said. “You have to respect anybody who gets in the ring.”
Even if you don’t understand them.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at email@example.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne