Boxer with a mission
Gail Grandchamp's energy is palpable.
It has driven her to box professionally, with 17 bouts to her credit.
It lies behind the marital arts and fitness training she teaches at her Grandchamp's Fitness & personal Boxing Training Studio on State Street.
You can even get a dose of it through the voice message on her the answering machine
Now, with the added backing of $4 million she won in the state lottery last October, it is fueling her campaign to allow women to box at the 2012 Olympics.
"Today there about 4,000 women registered as amateur boxers, but they can't compete," she said. "Once you are in the Olympics and win a medal and then turn pro you have a name that people recognize. That's what happened with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Oscar De La Hoya.
"If they are going to go forward in boxing, women should have the same chance as men for exposure on a platform like the Olympics."
According to Grandchamp, there are more than 1,000 professional female boxers in the United States. She said that a typical "card" (an evening's boxing lineup) might include eight or 10 matches in different weight classes.
"Most of them would be men," she explained. "There might be one between women, but the main event is usually male. Today there are enough female fighters to have all-female cards. It's a huge market that not being tapped."
Undaunted by an adversary as formidable as the International Olympic Committee, Grandchamp has picked up the gauntlet.
"I'm working with the Women's Sports Foundation to have a week-long event here in North Adams that would showcase amateur women boxers," she said. "We plan to invite five or six hundred athletes from the United States and Canada. They will be fighting in 10 classes ranging from Flyweight (between 108 and 122 pounds) to Heavyweight (up to 170 pounds).
"The matches will be in two rings in a venue that seats 2,000 spectators. Our best known supporters are Christy Halbert (she represented the United States as a coach in the first women's World Championships) and Billie Jean King, founder of the Women's Sports Foundation. We need to put pressure on the IOC to include women boxers in the Olympics and this event will help do that."
Grandchamp's ability to promote her dream took a big stride in the right direction when, last Oct. 23, she won a $4 million prize (paid out over 20 years) in the Massachusetts Lottery.
"Absolutely," she said. "I started supporting that effort before I had the money and will continue to do so."
Born and raised in North Adams, Grandchamp credits her mother and father, Millie and Louis Grandchamp, for sending her down the path she has chosen.
"There were four children in our family and my parents brought us up to believe in following whatever direction was best for us," she said. "It was a niche for who we were and what we wanted to become. They weren't in front of us, pulling, or behind us, pushing. They were always on the side, cheering us on, giving one hundred percent."
|» For boxer training|
Where: Grandchamp's Fitness & Boxing Personal Training Studio, 141 State St., North Adams.
Hours: By appoinment only.
Cost: $30 per hour; memberships also offered.
Information: (413) 664-0480.
"I had always loved watching 'The Friday Night Fight of the Week,' on TV," she said. "Mu-hammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Rocky Marciano their speed, their grace, their strength and endurance, the way they moved. It always made me want to be able to do that."
"Even when I was a little kid, I thought the martial arts were so impressive the kicks, the take-downs," she reflected. "What struck me was the ability to defend yourself no matter what your stature: Man or woman.; big or small; muscular or not. I couldn't get enough of characters like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee."
Grandchamp went on earn a Black Belt in karate and studied the art of Tae Kwon Do. She learned to fight with samurai swords, spin nunchucks and how to wield throwing stars. But the lure of boxing ultimately captivated her.
She took the plunge in 1983, joining the boxing club at North Adams State College (now known as Massachusetts College of Li-beral Arts) where she was working as a fitness instructor.
Within a year, her dedication to training was all-consuming. Six days a week she tackled a pair of two-hour workouts. In addition she logged between 15 and 25 miles of running. She bicycled, swam and lifted weights. She jumped rope, hit a speed bag, pounded the heavy bag, shadow boxed and sparred. Yet the demands of her routine seemed far less exhausting than the battles she would conduct on paper.
John Babeu, the club's trainer, watched as Grandchamp honed her skills and excelled. In 1984, her talent in the ring led him to pick her as one of five fighters to compete in the Western Massa-chusetts Golden Gloves competition.
To box she needed a license from the New England Amateur Athletic Union Boxing Federa-tion, however. The response to her application came as a blow much more devastating than a right hook to the jaw. The regional sanctioning body refused to allow her to participate simply because she was a woman.
Their denial laid the groundwork for Grandchamp to make boxing history, not in the ring but in the courtroom.
"I was not going to tolerate or let prejudice of any kind deprive me of achieving my boxing goals," she said.
In December 1984, she filed lawsuits against both the New England chapter and the USA Amateur Boxing Federation.
Curiously, although Grand-champ was ineligible to fight as a female amateur boxer in 1984, she did obtain a license from the Massachusetts Boxing Commis-sion to step into the ring as a professional.
On July 17, 1987, on the stage at the Mohawk Theater, she fought and triumphed over Linda Casey of Chicago in the Bay State's first official match between two wo-men.
Then, in 1992 she prevailed in court, when a judge ruled that, indeed, women can step into the ring as amateurs. This led to the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation making the ruling apply nationwide.
Though Grandchamp has not boxed professionally since 1997, there is one fight she has been chasing for several years to face Laila Ali, Super Middleweight Champion and daughter of former heavyweight champion Muham-mad Ali,
That match has eluded her. According to Grandchamp, Ali's promoters promised to stage the event in 2003, but then backed out of their agreement.
"It's still on the table from my end," she said. "Any day she stops running from me. She knows that. I'm not the one who canceled the fight. She did. I said to the promoter, 'You call me any day, any time and it's back on."
Despite her thirst for that main event, Grandchamp has always had passions that have nothing to do with pumping iron or pummeling a heavy bag.
Being active in her community caring about family, friends and neighbors, helping someone who has fallen on hard times has always counted as much or more than a win in the ring, she says.
"You always have to give back," she says. "I'm about giving, not taking. Part of the proceeds from my products (T-shirts, photographs, a fitness video) go to people in need"
"There are two lists," she continued. "This is what you need and this is what you want. Most people's 'want list' is way too big. I need a roof over my head, not a mansion food on the table, electricity, a warm house, a decent car to drive. And my health. That's my greatest wealth."
On her big lottery win, Grandchamp said, "It certainly isn't going to change who I am and it's not going to change the way I live. Now I can help more people from my own pocket but I've I always helped people anyway and that's what its all about.
"Money," she continued, "is not going to define who Gail Grandchamp is. Never will. I'm still Gail Grandchamp with or without the money. God comes first. Family second. Friends third. And money fourth. I could be broke, but with my family I'm rich."
When asked about her legacy in the world of sports, Grandchamp said, "I think it's important that people know one person can make a difference. Everyone needs inspiration. I would like to be known for what I stood for and what I fought for. But most of all, I hope people see me as a friend and someone who gives from the heart. I try to make a difference in other people's lives because others have made a difference in mine. And remember, do nothing and nothing happens. Do something and something happens."
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