Boxing may be 'guy thing,' but this girl thrives on it

If you're one of Hannah Murphy's friends, she'd like you to stop reading this.

The Lakeshore Middle School eighth-grader has been doing something behind your back for the past five months, and she's not sure she wants you know about it.

Hannah is taking boxing lessons.

The downside is that she realizes most girls don't do "guy things" like take boxing lessons. The upside is that she swears by how much it has benefitted her.

From gaining a new found confidence to helping her improve her grades in school, Hannah is hooked on boxing.... A right hook, maybe, or a left hook.

Her bouncing blonde ponytail and 5-foot 2-inch, 115-pound frame don't bespeak someone who can pack a punch. Hannah has tried sports before - softball and some cross country running - but what she likes to do is mostly "just hang out" with her friends.

Hannah's mom and stepfather, Carol and Mike Messina, were looking to get her involved in something. Carol noticed a roadside sign advertising a new boxing gym in the Lake Norman area.

Mike Messina enjoyed boxing when he was a child, he said, and he began prompting Hannah about the sport to gauge her interest. Hannah played along, saying she would be interested in lessons, but she didn't take it very seriously.

Path began with a gift

Hannah's path to the gym began on Christmas morning.

Among her presents, she unwrapped a white box that contained a pair of red boxing gloves and a gift certificate for six lessons from Contenders Gym.

"I thought 'Oh, my God!'" Hannah said. "I was really nervous and scared but I knew I didn't want to back out of it."

Mike Messina had done some homework on Contenders Gym before committing to his present. He visited its Charlotte location and was comfortable with coach Joe Mayer's approach.

Mayer's partner, Davidson resident Charles McGalliard, leads the Lake Norman gym, and both men help with the training.

Hannah attended her first training session shortly after New Year's Day.

She was a bit intimidated by all of the gym's boxing equipment, she said. Her first day of training included jumping rope, learning how to jab and getting some footwork down.

Hannah rushed through her first six lessons in about a month. Five months later, her enthusiasm has not waned. She visits the gym twice a week.

"She was real timid, real shy," Mayer said. "... She really took to boxing. Her demeanor is really different now."

A six-count combination

McGalliard said he's surprised by the number of youth who have gotten interested in the fledgling gym. He said about half his 20 clients are 14 or younger.

A typical training session for Hannah consists of jumping rope, working the speed bag and learning punch combinations. She's up to a six-count combination: "jab, right, slip, slip, anchor, anchor."

Hannah is convinced that the self-discipline boxing encourages has helped her with her grades. It helps her stay focused in the classroom, and consequently, she said, she retains more content and performs better on tests.

Also, now jumping rope and doing pushups in gym class is a breeze.

Hannah said she expects her training will lead to sparring one day, but she isn't so sure she will ever step into the ring for a competitive boxing match.

"I think it would be pretty fun hitting someone else," she said, smiling. "I just don't want to get hit by someone."

On that concern she has about her friends finding out she's taking boxing lessons, she said, "I just feel kind of weird that I do this guy thing."

Any guy or girl who questions Hannah's enthusiasm for boxing may end up on the wrong side of that six-count combination she has mastered.