Ponytail with a Punch: 9-year-old Kenner girl on a mission
Some are in it for fitness, others for competition. But either way, boxing demands a tough mind and a tough body.
It's also a sport with a changing look, and one local athlete is proof of that.
Walk into just about any boxing gym, and there's no mistaking this is still very much a guy's sport.
Axel Murillo has been coaching for 12 years, boxing for 16. He says in that time, there's hardly been gender equality.
Murillo says, "Very few women, and the ones that do come by have it in their minds they wanna' do it, but when they really get down to the nitty gritty of what it takes, not even getting hit, just the training aspect of it, they weed themselves out."
Female boxers may be rare, but rarely will you find one who's just a little girl, yearning to learn the ropes.
At the Kenner Boxing Gym, 9-year-old Alexis Lavarine can't wait to get in the ring.
"I saw it on TV first, then I asked my dad and he's like no, you can't do it. It's only for boys," says the third grader sporting a ponytail.
Her dad, David, says "Kenner actually had a boxing show, so I brought her to the Greenlawn Gym. They had the show for about six hours and she watched the whole thing for six hours. I thought, man, she's really serious about this."
Alexis was more than serious. She says, "We went home and I asked my dad again. He said I'll bring you tomorrow and see if you like it or not."
That was 18 months ago, when she was 8.
This student at A.C. Alexander now spends about five days a week working out and throwing punches after school. And she still manages to squeeze in basketball practice for the Kenner Angels.
No surprise, Alexis plays up an age group for the AAU team.
"She has a different drive than most kids," says Coach Murillo. "Most of the boys don't work as hard as she does or do what she does."
Back in the ring, Murillo says the hard part is finding girls her age to fight against. So twice a week, Alexis spars boys, as her dad stands ringside and keeps her focused.
You can tell by the way she fights, she's in it to win. But what happens when she gets hit in the face by a boy?
"It just makes me want to hit them harder, because if they hit me harder, I'm going harder, says Alexis. "If they hit me harder, I'm going to hit them hardest and that's how most of them just fall."
She says some boys are afraid of her and she knows it.
"I know because I gave like five boys bloody noses," says Alexis as she chuckles.
Her dad and her coaches are still in awe.
"Hey it is what it is," says Lavarine. "I'm actually just as blown away as most people who come here. They can't believe it."
Alexis is definitely part of the changing face of boxing. For the first time in the history of the Olympics, women's boxing will be included in the Summer games this year. And she is already aiming to fight her way to the top.
Alexis says, "I want to try my hardest to get to the Olympics in eight years."
Her coach says she's already way ahead of the game when it comes to focus and endurance.
"She's a junkie. She's an adrenaline junkie, she really is," says Murillo. "She's been exhausted before, but she won't quit. We have boys quit. No matter what you do, she won't quit."
Alexis is quick to tell you, injuries don't phase her.
She says, "I mean I might have one or two bloody noses, like the fifth time I sparred, but it's not bad, like it's dripping down my chin and I have to get my nose wiped 50 times."
She's 9 and she's on a mission.
"She's got the key component to get there: the heart," says her coach. "The rest, we can take care of in here. I think she's got a real good possibility."
At the rate Alexis Lavarine is going, no one doubts she'll get to the 2020 games, one round at a time.