(CNN) — It’s hard to see now among the clubs, competitions and champions that Gloria Peek has influenced over the years, but the USA Boxing coach wasn’t always welcome in the ring.
She’s a woman, and women didn’t box.
These days, she’s a head coach for the 2011 Pan American Games in October.
She was one of the first women to run her own boxing club — the Montgomery Boxing Club in Rochester, New York. Big-name boxers like “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya trained there.
Peek has worked with Olympic-class athletes like Jermain Taylor and Andre Ward, who won the United States’ last Olympic gold medal in boxing in 2004.
The 60-year-old coach runs Team Norfolk Boxing Club in Norfolk, Virginia, and she has a new goal: Coaching the U.S. team at the 2012 Olympics. For the first time, women’s boxing will be part of the games.
Peek spoke with CNN about the challenges she overcame to become a trainer in the male-dominated sport of boxing.
CNN: How did you fall in love with boxing?
Peek: Well, I was 8 years old when I started watching the “Gillette’s Friday Night at the Fights” with my dad, that was the start. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my Girl Scout troop went to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to watch “The Nutcracker.” It was my first ballet performance. During the performance, I was able to superimpose the ballet dancers and the boxers I had seen on TV. Both are very sculpted, graceful, yet powerful in their movement as well as elegant. And really, it was at that moment that I fell in love with boxing.
CNN: You began boxing when you were in the Navy. What that was like?
Peek: Punching the bags in the Navy gym was like walking into the men’s locker room catching them in the buff. They let you know you didn’t belong there and would do subtle things to get you to leave, like hopping on the bag when they saw you come in, making loud comments about a woman’s place is in the kitchen, or (commenting) “You must be gay,” and “Trying to be like a man.”
CNN: Did you see other women boxing in the gym at all?
Peek: There were no other women boxing in this gym or even weight training (at that time).
CNN: What experiences prepared you to be one of the few female boxing coaches?
Peek: Being in the Navy was only one of the many experiences that paved the way for me to become who I am today. Twenty-one years of working in corrections in all-male facilities, 18 years doing recreation programs, all helped shape me into who I am today. My Navy experience helped a great deal in my being more determined and resilient.
CNN: How did you transition from an aspiring boxer, to coach, and later running a boxing program?
Peek: After years of trying to break into the world of amateur boxing as a boxer, time ran out for me. When USA Boxing finally allowed women to box, I was too old. So I decided to train boxers instead. I had only seen women helping their husbands in the corner (of the boxing ring). They were few and far between. Despite the lack of women in the field, I believed I could develop and coach my own boxing program and be successful in every aspect of the game.
CNN: What was the hardest part about being one of the few female boxing coaches?
Peek: Going to shows and tournaments and being the only female or the only female coach. … Coaches would laugh and point at me in the corner (of the ring), telling their boxer this was an easy fight because a woman coach could not teach a boxer to fight. Once my boxer would crush them, their attitude would be one of anger and disbelief.
CNN: What do you consider the best moments of your career?
Peek: “The biggest highlight for me was when USA Boxing began to recognize my coaching ability and began to include me on international teams as part of the coaching staff. I worked both domestic and overseas tournaments. I’ve worked several men’s and women’s world championships; worked with Olympians and to-be Olympians. I’m the first and still only woman to work with the men’s elite boxers. I’m also head coach for the 2011 Pan American Games men’s and women’s teams. My final goal is to make the (2012) Olympic team coaching staff.”
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