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Blanchette: Hamann sees philosophical side of boxing

John Blanchette (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
John Blanchette (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s not quite up there with the religion of football or the national pastime of baseball, but one of America’s favorite sports has always been teasing philosophy majors.

“What do you plan to do with that degree?” we ask. “Sell philosophy door to door?”

Ha ha! That one never gets old. Except maybe to anyone studying Plato and postmodernism.

And she explained this to her family and friends how?

“I’m not sure I knew why I was doing it myself in the beginning,” she conceded.

Hmm. Could be grounds to revoke the old diploma, or at least relegation to a rear-row seat at the Deep Thinkers Club, no?

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with ongoing self-examination. And few endeavors offer more stinging assessments than ducking through the ropes to meet an opponent whose philosophy is to hit you as often as possible.

Speaking of which, the first time Hamann got popped in the face?

“I cried,” she said. “Anyone who tells you different is lying – at least I like to think so. And not because it hurts. Because it’s insulting and embarrassing – all those things. But that made me want to keep practicing.”

And you know what they say about practice.

It hasn’t made Jennifer Hamann perfect, but it has made her a champion – last year’s featherweight winner at the USA Boxing Elite National Championships, which return to Spokane beginning Monday at the HUB Sports Center and Northern Quest Casino. She understands that’s going to make her a target this year, and movement of boxers among weight classes will likely ratchet up the competition. But it’s unlikely to be as angst-sodden an experience as it was a year ago.

“For one thing, it was hell making weight,” she remembered, referring to the 125-pound limit.

On top of which, both she and coach Tricia Turton – a former boxer who won a national title herself in Spokane a decade ago – had left Cappy’s Gym in the fall of 2012, leaving “both of us gymless, jobless and at times Tricia was homeless, staying with friends.

“All we did was train for nationals – we were obsessed with it,” Hamann said. “I don’t want to do it that way again, but it was a great experience to go through. Nothing is going to be as hard as that.”

Now Turton has her own gym on Capitol Hill – Arcaro Boxing – and Hamann is back in grad school, making boxing her release instead of her obsession.

Like many other boxers, Hamann came to the ring by way of not-quite-rewarding experiences in other sports. In her case, it was soccer – at Eastern Washington for one year and Seattle for three more, where she finally cracked the starting lineup as a senior only to have her season derailed by an injury. Then she turned out for track that spring before finding her way to Cappy’s where she found an outlet that was “kind of addicting.

“One more fight, just one more fight,” she said. “That’s what I kept telling my mom.”

But she also discovered – by accident – some practical applications for some of the stuff she’d been studying.

“Like when you’re sparring with someone – you’re not going to win if your goal is to destroy them,” she said, “or if you’re incredibly angry and you think you’re going to take it out in the ring. It never seems to work. You fight desperately. You’re very stiff. I’ve learned that anger doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in boxing where it’s supposed to work, and it doesn’t work in real life.”

If you’re wondering, Hamann’s graduate studies are aimed at a master’s in existential phenomenological therapeutic counseling (“Yes, I’ll have a real credential to do something with,” she said). This is a little beyond Mike Tyson reading “The Quotable Kierkegaard” between talk-show confessionals, and Hamann understands that brainy academic pursuits and her socio-economic background are a departure from the boxing norm, and she’s felt like a bit of an outsider.

“But not for those reasons anymore,” she insisted. “The more I meet other women that box, I learn that they feel the same way I do. We all kind of meet each other. I feel like an outsider in that I’m not very expressive in my confidence and tend to be shy in a group. And if you don’t look very confident, people don’t think you’re very good.”

Hamann has demonstrated otherwise – winning 29 of her 31 fights, including two to earn the gold medal at the Women’s Continental Championships in Venezuela last May. She charts her progress – and her thoughts – on a blog boldly named “,” though she seems determined to make her Olympic mission more about fulfillment than a medal. Achievement-based goals can be problematic, she theorizes – and points to 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel as an example.

“I love him – I like him because he’s sassy and I get in trouble sometimes for being sassy,” she said. “But he says what he thinks. He had a hard time with fame in the beginning and you got to see a real person.

“If his goal this year had been to win the Heisman again, that would have been really disappointing, right? Didn’t he have to have something else other than the same goal that was statistically unlikely? My goal is to be the best boxer I can be – and sometimes you win things along the way.”

Sounds like a philosophy that’s hard to punch holes in.