Tyrieshia Douglas is a shy and polite woman. She weighs 112 pounds and has a runner’s build – muscular and lightning quick – and seems most at home when she’s fighting.
The 21-year-old Washington, D.C., native is living the life that Hollywood often uses to sell audiences on boxing movies.
“If it wasn't for boxing, honestly I do not know where I would be,” Douglas says.
She grew up without a mother or a father and bounced between foster care and extended family, sleeping wherever she could. Douglas did stints in juvenile detention and seemed bound for further trouble until she found peace in the ring.
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“When I was little my only happy place was the gym,” Douglas says, “and when I went home I was sad all over again.”
In 2009, she caught the attention of boxing coach Calvin Ford, a famed Baltimore native who went to jail after being busted in one of Baltimore’s most notorious drug rings in the 1980’s. Once released, he turned his life around by opening a boxing gym that catered to kids on the street. Ford’s life became the inspiration for the character Dennis “Cutty” Wise on the popular HBO series, "The Wire."
Ford says that when Douglas came to him last year she was already a seasoned fighter, and that he’s been simply “tweaking things here and there” in preparation for the 2012 summer games in London, which will mark the Olympic debut for women's boxing.
Douglas is competing to make the Olympic squad in the flyweight division and recently finished a training regiment with the entire USA Women’s Boxing team in Colorado Springs. Only three female amateur fighters will represent the U.S. in 2012 and they’ll fight in weight classes that include 112 pounds, 132 pounds and 165 pounds.
Ford says he has been trying to put different types of boxers in front of Douglas, forcing her to face southpaws, heavyweights and taller fighters, because he is uncertain as to what the international competition will bring. He says that any opponent, though, has trouble standing toe-to-toe with Douglas because of her surprising power.
“But since she’s been training with me we’ve been learning that it’s not about power,” Ford says, “it’s about using your brains.”
2011 will be an important year for Douglas, as she’ll battle to lock down a spot on the Olympic team. She says that she worries about every boxer in her weight class but seems remarkably at ease as to how it will play out with her opponents.
“I’ll see them when I get in the ring,” Douglas says, “and let the best female win.”
Tom LeGro contributed video reporting to this story.