For American women, so many firsts have been achieved, so many barriers overcome that only the rare and most forbidden trophies remain to be coveted. Like the presidency, the priesthood or, say, the prize fight.
So bouncing down the sidewalk in this far Northwestern port community, in the footsteps of Susan B. Anthony and Sally K. Ride and other women who dared, comes 5-foot, 4-inch Dallas Malloy, a charming, precocious, determined, more-than-slightly offbeat teen-ager.
Pardon the writer who remarks on her delicate complexion, her grown-up smile, her residual hint of baby fat and her blooming good looks. But these things hardly can be ignored, if for no other reason than the contrast with raw scabs on her knuckles from the speed bag, the frosty narrowing of her eyes when she gets down to business and her exposition on the merits of “killer instinct.”
At 16, Malloy has become a curiosity, a celebrity and, she hopes, a worthy pioneer in her quest to be the first American female to put on the gloves in a sanctioned amateur boxing match.
Actually, she will have to share the honor with her opponent, for she is scheduled to box another woman--a student of martial arts--later this month.
But Malloy is the legal ground-breaker and a formidable promoter of this improbable but inevitable first--a would-be champion in a generation of young women who just might be the last held by history’s old shackles.
“I’m tired of people saying: ‘Wow, she must be strange.’ It’s not strange. It’s new, it’s unusual--but it’s not weird. I’m not weird. There is a difference, you know what I mean?” Malloy said, taking a breather during her six-day-a-week training regimen.
People in the Northwest find themselves fascinated with pictures of Malloy warming up by bloodying the face of a sparring partner, a man older and bigger and more experienced than she.
They follow news accounts of her days spent in the sweaty, graffiti-strewn basement boxing gym where, in helmet and chest pad, she faced and, by all accounts, overcame the skepticism of hardened, in some cases troubled, young men with fighting on their minds.
And now they can thank her for the determined legal challenge that last week finally forced U.S. Amateur Boxing Inc., the sanctioning body of amateur fights in the United States, to end its 106-year-old policy limiting the ring to men.
Kurt Stenerson, assistant director the organization, known as USA Boxing, says it will begin a program for female boxers throughout the nation.
“We’re trying to be progressive,” he said.
Earlier this year, Seattle attorney Suzanne J. Thomas, acting on behalf of Malloy and the American Civil Liberties Union, won a temporary injunction against USA Boxing from U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein. The judge’s ruling made possible the scheduling of Malloy’s Oct. 30 fight in suburban Seattle.
With its capitulation, USA Boxing apparently decided to avoid a Dec. 20 trial and the possibility that it could not only lose the case but risk its status as the official sanctioning body of amateur boxing.
Thomas said federal statutes specifically forbid gender exclusion in amateur sports, “and I have to tell you that never in my life have I seen discrimination as blatant as this.”
At 139 pounds, Malloy will box as a light-welterweight. Her opponent is to be Heather Poyner, a 21-year-old student of karate and other martial arts from the Washington community of Lynden. Poyner has been training for three years but only recently began extensive boxing practice, according to the fight’s sponsor.
Obtaining an opponent was not easy. Where would Billy the Kid have been without someone to stand at the other end of the street? Promoters first considered a 30-year-old seasoned kick-boxer but decided she had too much ring experience.
Poyner, at the same height, weight and reach--and also a novice willing to make history--became the logical choice.
The bout is being promoted in the Puget Sound region not only for its novelty but in the serious hope it will give a boost to the waning fortunes of amateur boxing.
Bob Jarvis of the Hillman City Boxing Gym in Seattle, who is promoting the match, said there were 26 boxing clubs in the region in the 1970s. Today there are seven. The last Golden Gloves fight here was in 1988.
“This is going to be great for boxing,” Jarvis said. Pointing to Malloy, he added with a promoter’s knowing smile: “She should be the poster girl for USA Boxing.”
The fight is scheduled as part of a 10-bout card at Edmonds Community College. Normally, such a card might attract 600 spectators. In this case, Jarvis said he has no idea how many additional fans may be drawn for the three-round Malloy-Poyner match.
Canadians have sanctioned female boxers for two years, and interest among women in the sport “is growing quite quickly,” said Stuart Charbula, executive director of the Canadian Amateur Boxing Assn. in Ottawa.
Today, there are 150 women on Canada’s amateur-boxing rolls and 3,000 men.
Charbula said women turned to competition after being attracted to boxing gyms for fitness workouts in recent years. Punching bags are also showing up at other types of general fitness facilities, and women are availing themselves of boxing’s intense aerobic demands and self-defense potential.
Malloy said several things drew her to the sport. She had been introduced to martial arts by a friend, she was interested in weightlifting and developing strength, and she was mindful of self-defense.
And then she saw the movie “On the Waterfront” in which Marlon Brando plays a boxer-longshoreman named Malloy.
That led to a visit to the 12th Street Boxing Gym in Bellingham back on Aug. 6, 1992, and her life changed.
“I knew the moment I stepped in there I was going to stay. This is going to be where it happens,” she recalled. “Within one week, I felt like I’d been there forever.”
“On the Waterfront” also inspired her to change her name to Malloy, after having tried “a bunch” of others. She decided on the first name of Dallas because it seemed to have the right ring to go along. As for her former name, she asked, please, that it remain her secret.
Just as her bout portends a breakthrough, so has Malloy’s entry into the sweaty, combative world of Bellingham’s basement boxing gym, nothing if not a safe haven for male machismo.
Boxers and trainer alike greeted this young upstart with keen skepticism. A few hard punches and she would quit. And she no doubt deserved her few punches.
A shot to the liver one workout dropped her to one knee with a yelp. But she stood up.
Her progress in winning over her gym-mates is scrawled on a scuffed wall, in which a dozen sexist descriptions of her are scratched out, leaving only one adjective: Boxer .
But let’s be frank: If Malloy were a big-city kid struggling to escape her surroundings, her quest would be easier to fathom, given the mythology of boxing.
She is the product of a comfortable home and a “yeah-I-guess” happy childhood that began in Camarillo, Calif., with a college professor father and a language instructor mother. These are the kind of parents who do not lecture so much as they asked their daughter to think for herself.
Malloy still lives at home, and her parents have been interviewed occasionally when public interest in her career increased. Her father appeared at her side at a press conference and during court appearances. Her mother accompanied Malloy to an early visit with the owner of a boxing gym--a man who warned that if she was serious about competing she would have to challenge the men-only rules, which she promptly did.
But Malloy said she would rather that her family not be imposed upon any further.
“It shouldn’t matter. I’m not a 2-year-old,” she said. “They don’t like boxing that much anyway.”
Outside the gym, she is a pianist who plays for relaxation and who used to perform professionally at receptions. She has traveled and is poised beyond her years but, like other teen-agers, is impatient and bursting full of all kinds of dreams. She moved to Bellingham with her parents 10 years ago, finished 10th grade and then dropped out this year to train full time, intending to finish her general education degree after this bout.
And no, Malloy said, she was not the type of youngster to get into fistfights.
Not even one?
“Not really,” she said.
Talking with her, one hears a conversation that is part Hollywood dialogue, part feminist sermon and part a call to adventure:
“The kinds of things I want to learn you don’t learn in high school. I want to experience things. I want life to be my education. . . . I want to travel, I want to see. It’s such a big world,” she said.
But then she added: “I don’t want to be mistaken for a rebellious teen-ager. . . . What I am is independent. I make my own decisions.”
Sometimes she slumps self-consciously in her chair like any other 16-year-old and lapses into high-pitched teen, ah, talk. Then she bolts upright and shifts into a thoughtful conversation decrying sexism and violence in American society.
But if she is against violence, why for heaven’s sake is she boxing?
The kind of violence that bothers her, she explains, is that inflicted on women against their will--men against women, the result of a society where gender is a matter of caste and too frequently a weapon. Boxing is sport. And a female boxer will dispel one more myth of feminine frailty.
“Women in our society aren’t taught to be aggressive, strong. They’re supposed to be passive, beautiful and weak--and that’s unrealistic. It makes me sick. I want to be the best person I can,” she said.
“And I want to be beautiful too, don’t get me wrong,” she added.
But a question: Over time, boxers become scarred in the ring. Does that worry Malloy?
“That shouldn’t be a concern,” she replied.
So far, her fighting has been limited to sparring in the ring with men. That has left her bloody on occasions, just as she has bloodied others, even though the rules and protective gear of amateur boxing are designed to limit injury.
Knowledgeable boxing enthusiasts who have watched her spar and work out say she is a “technique” fighter. She credits her musical upbringing for her ability to memorize and practice combinations of as many as 105 consecutive punches--more than any of the men at her gym.
Bout promoter Jarvis said she still must be regarded as “green.”
“There simply is no substitute for experience. I told her all along that at some point she was going to have to climb between the ropes and answer the bell,” he said.
Which Malloy said she is prepared to do with sublime anticipation.
“My coach says it: In that ring, it’s the highest high there is. It sounds like the best. I like the struggle. I’m really competitive. I like to win. . . . It’s hard to put some of this to words, hard to explain. Like I was saying about life, you can only experience it.”
Trainer James Ferguson said Malloy possesses the intelligence and dedication required to be a success. She also has that spark that could make her a champion, he said.
“Deep inside, she is a very tough individual. She has a lot of resolve. I’ve been coaching for 27 years, and I can envision Dallas boxing in the Olympics in three years.”
But that is another story and another challenge. As of now, women are not allowed in the Olympic boxing ring.