Alicia Doyle sees the question coming as easily as a fighter telegraphing her punches.
,” is now available on Amazon and available for purchse at Barnes and Noble, as well as on her website at aliciadoyle.com.
Doyle has been asked that more times than she can count. And she knows the reason: It was an avenue to deal with the anger and violence of her youth. Boxing helped transcend her issues, but it also brought them to the surface. She fought what she couldn’t fight before.
Doyle, now 49, suffered in a home where her parents fought regularly and endured bullying, obesity and low self-esteem. Little did she know that this would be the fuel needed to win two amateur boxing titles, ending a brief professional career with a record of 5-6 with three knockouts.
But Alicia never had any intention of boxing, nor had she ever walked into a gym. It was only after taking a call to cover a story for a California newspaper that she happened upon the sport.
It was the late 1990s. The woman on the other end of the phone told her that a recent El Niño storm had destroyed an area gym, called Kid Gloves. It was a gym that helped at-risk youth. The newspaper had wanted a human interest story. But after finding out details, Doyle initially resisted doing the story, calling the sport of boxing, “the dark side.” But after surveying the gym’s damage, and meeting with its founder Robert Ortiz, Doyle agreed to write the story.
As she described it, Robert Ortiz, the founder of Kid Gloves, was “the sweetest man.” And as Doyle began to interview the kids who were a part of the program, she discovered many of the kids had come from broken homes – homes where they had suffered abuse. What the kids told her would change Doyle’s perspective on the sport of boxing.
Doyle could relate. From about the age of three, she knew she lived in a house of violence.
Her parents, Frank Doyle and Patsy Kong, had entered the marriage – the second for both – having suffered traumatic events of their own, yet never seeking help.
Frank endured an alcoholic father who told him he was no good and once threw him down a flight of stairs. Patsy, Alicia’s mother, was the first born into her Chinese family. Where a son is preferred, Patst grew up in the shadow of her younger brother and chafed at the cultural belief that Chinese women should be seen and not heard.
When Alicia was born, it was 1970. The family was living in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. Patsy already had two sons from a previous marriage and Frank had three kids of his own. Within a year, Frank, Patsy, Alicia and Patsy’s sons all moved to Wheat Ridge, Colo.
“I remember being frightened by it, hiding in the closet, clutching my stuffed animals,” she said. Her brothers often distracted her by engaging her with puzzles and games.
The arguing, which escalated with Frank smashing dishes, became so regular that the kids became numb to it.
The worst came when Alicia was five. Frank, Alicia’s father, pinned Patsy against a wall and tried to strangle her. Alicia’s screams combined with the shock at what he had done caused Frank to let go. Patsy screamed for Frank to get out. Frank – crying as he started to walk out – found Alicia wrapped around her father’s leg screaming, “Don’t leave!”
“I have to leave, baby girl,” Frank told his daughter. “Just remember I love you.”
After her parents’ divorce, Alicia found comfort in food, and her weight soon ballooned. This led to bullying, mostly verbal, by popular boys, who made her cry daily. In junior high school, she got stabbed with a pencil, and one kid often intentionally rammed her when he saw her in the hallways.
At 13, after a really bad fight with her mom, she attempted suicide by taking 20 of her mother’s sleeping pills. All it did was make her sleep a long time. She thinks her obesity may have saved her life.
Still looking for sympathy in light of her attempt, Doyle wrote a letter to her mother’s sister. Instead, her aunt told Doyle’s mom of the note. Her mother’s response was, “Don’t you think I want to kill myself every day?”
Later, Doyle received a letter from her aunt that began, “Honey, you have got to lose some weight.”
“What does a number on a scale have to do with my trying to kill myself? I didn’t want to die because I was fat. I wanted to die because I was miserable,” Doyle recalls. That summer she lost 30 pounds. When she returned to school, the bullying stopped. Everyone treated her differently. She fell in with popular kids. She even got a boyfriend.
Her mother then devastated her by announcing they were moving back to California. Once she got to Chatsworth High and saw nobody cared what one’s weight was, she was OK.
But trauma again found her in her 20s. She got out of an abusive relationship in which the guy had hit her. At that point she so badly wanted to hit something that she finally took Ortiz’s advice and attended his boxing-aerobics class. In hitting the bag she found it to be the release of the anger and rage she had built up for so many years.
“I got such a high,” she said. “I started taking more classes, and then I wanted more. I started watching and studying the boxers and doing their workouts.”
When hitting the bag, it made such a loud noise that people noticed.
“It was like fireworks,” Ortiz said. “You’d think it was a guy punching the bag, but it’s a woman.”
Coaches started to take notice, asking to train her. They suggested, at age 28, Doyle step into the ring for a three-round exhibition bout against Layla McCarter, then a 19-year old up and comer. McCarter would go on to win world championships in four weight classes and be considered one of the greatest women boxers ever.
As an amateur, Doyle’s amazing work ethic saw her up before sunrise to run and then go to work at the newspaper from 8 a. m. to 5 p.m. After work she would hustle over to the gym for more training.
She again faced McCarter when she stepped into the ring for her first official fight, at 130 pounds. Although she lost by a decision, Doyle bounced back with two impressive Golden Gloves titles via a TKO and decision.
In 1999 she entered the Blue & Gold Invitational Boxing Tournament and fought a grueling schedule: three bouts in three days. With two technical knockouts and a loss on points, Doyle proved she had stamina to succeed.
Next came winning the USA Boxing Southern California District title in a walkover,
followed by two losses.
Although Doyle had tasted success, “every fight was terrifying,” she said. She was getting hit, in the liver, the face, the head, wherever, while trying to avoid getting hit and figuring out ways to land punches. Most of the time, the pain was so great that she wanted it to end.
But she didn’t know true pain until she turned pro, which she decided to do within a week of her last fight, quitting her newspaper job as well. She discovered it’s a different game: no headgear and eight-ounce gloves, compared with 12- to 14-ounce gloves in amateur fights. She said eight ounces felt like a bare fist. And although the rounds were just two minutes, “a hundred and twenty seconds feels like an eternity, and it’s going in slow motion.”
Maybe her most famous professional fight was against Lisa Valencia in Castaic, California for $650. One publication called it the California Female Fight of the Year.
“I had never felt this level of fear, consumed with terror that my opponent would inflict permanent injury,” she wrote in her book.
As Doyle recounted, Valencia outpointed her quickly, but Doyle responded by cutting Valencia’s lip and sending blood everywhere. But she was unable to avoid Valencia’s torrent of left hooks and lost a very close fight.
Doyle was done. The pain she endured was too great – and not at all worth the money. To this day, her right inner ear is damaged from all of Valencia’s left hooks.
Alicia Doyle took up boxing despite it bringing out contradictions in her. She loved the competition, loved what it did to her body, found victory to be the greatest high; yet was terrified every time she stepped into the ring. One trainer gave her the nickname “Disaster Diva,” but by the end she didn’t want to hurt anyone.
She retired from boxing at age 30 then and there, and it has taken 19 years to finally gain the courage to tell her story. In the interim, she was profiled in the Los Angeles Times, worked as a freelance journalist, is in talks to have her story optioned and teaches at the gym where it all began.
“I got a lot of positive attention, and it was fantastic being admired, being a viewed as a role model. It’s just fantastic,” she said. “Boxing’s a high I’ll never achieve again unless I go back in there, and I don’t plan to.”