Just days before one of her biggest professional bouts, an undefeated badass of women’s boxing put the heat on me.
A single sweaty training session at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn with Heather (The Heat) Hardy — who will go toe-to-toe with arch rival Shelly (Shelito’s Way) Vincent for the first time Sunday at Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk — left me sore and inspired.
Hardy began our workout with a jump rope warm-up before taking a minute to wrap my hands — a way to secure joints and bones before the gloves go on.
“There’s no right way or wrong way, you just want to make sure there’s enough protection for your wrists and on your knuckles,” said Hardy, weaving the strip of red fabric between each of my fingers for support.
We moved on to double-end bag drills where the boxer — me, in this case — strikes a melon-sized punching bag suspended between two cables, bouncing it back and forth. Hardy made the exercise look easy.
“It’s like, bop, bop, bop,” she explained as she demonstrated the drill, sending the bag out with well-timed jabs.
I attempted to mimic my new coach only to find myself frustrated by the moving target. Hardy instructed me to extend my arm out further with each hit, like you would to shake someone’s hand, but higher.
“Good! Yes!” she said of the improvement.
Slipping me into a pair of red gloves, Hardy went over the four fundamental punches of boxing: the jab, hook, uppercut and cross. Proper technique, she told me, is the key to the perfect blow.
“You learn the basics first then you add power,” said the pugilist, who grew up in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn.
We eventually powered down in a small nearby room where I talked more with Hardy and her coach, Devon Cormack, about the upcoming fight with Vincent at the Premier Boxing Champions event. Hardy said a call from her promoter, Lou DiBella, put everything in motion.
"It was midnight. I was eating pizza and Lou called me. He's like, alright, we're going to do this," she said of Sunday’s match. "I had been waiting to fight this girl for so long that I put that pizza down and said. 'I'm in.'"
"In the beginning (Vincent) used to make all this noise because we were signed under different promoters, so there was no possibility of this fight ever happening,” said Hardy, 34, who got her start in the sport only six years ago.
Now, at 17-0, Hardy is a top featherweight contender.
"(Vincent) makes fun of the way I look, the way I speak, the way I dress...She is going to pay the price."
Vincent, a 37-year-old from Connecticut, is 18-0.
I looked back at Hardy, a single mom who not too long ago worked several jobs to make ends meet, and saw the face of a focused fighter of formidable physical and mental strength, and thought, this woman is going to win.
Hardy said she never put on a pair of gloves before she turned 28 — which just happens to be my age.
Taken by The Heat, I thought, hey, you never know what’s possible.