It’s a big month for Tiara Brown.
The Florida-born, D.C-based fighter will be back in Spokane next week to defend her featherweight championship in the 2015 USA Boxing Elite National Championships. At tournament’s end, she’ll “retire” to reinvent herself as a lightweight for a year-long mission to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team – the Olympics having no room for her weight class in their indefensibly abridged program for females, despite the pleas and politicking of Brown and others in the same boat.
But there are fights, and then there are fights.
And whatever Brown might win in Spokane, it’ll only be the second biggest victory of the new year in her family.
Last Friday, her two moms got hitched.
“And I’m so proud of them, so glad for them,” Brown said.
Sharon Smith and Nicole Pointer have been partners for 27 years. But until a district court last August overturned Florida’s law banning same-sex unions as unconstitutional, they couldn’t marry legally. That ban was lifted last week – though the court’s decision remains under appeal – and Smith and Pointer were one of several couples who made their way to the Lee County Courthouse in Fort Myers to ring in the change.
“Their dreams are coming true,” Brown said. “Everybody deserves a shot at their own dream.”
So Brown will keep swinging for hers.
She’s achieved a few already. She’s a two-time national champion. She’s medaled twice at AIBA’s world championships – a gold in 2012 (only the third American woman to win one) and a bronze just two months ago. As a full-scholarship athlete at Columbus State, she ran on the school’s first women’s cross country team to compete in the NCAA Division II championships in 2009. She covered more important ground the following spring – crossing the stage at CSU’s commencement to collect a degree in criminal justice, the first college graduate in her family.
Still, there’s this Olympics business unfinished, and a cutthroat business it’s become.
There were huzzahs all around the amateur boxing community when the Olympic fathers grandly deigned to add women’s bouts to the menu in 2012. The other boot soon kicked the ladies in the backside: while the men would continue to compete in the usual 10 weight classes, the women would be allowed just three – flyweight, lightweight and middleweight.
So even if a fighter was queen of the hill as a heavyweight, she had to drop 20 pounds just to lace on gloves for a shot at the Olympics. That first women’s team was decided in Spokane – and Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza came back from London with a gold and a bronze.
Brown, who had tried to move up from 125 pounds to 132, lost in the trials semis and was “devastated” – but eventually consoled herself by winning her first U.S. and world titles at her natural weight.
“It just wasn’t my time at 132,” she said. “This time around it’ll be different.”
Seven pounds may not seem like a mountain, and Brown admitted that “I can eat a few pizzas and a Super Big Gulp and be right there – but that’s not the way to do it.” At 26, she’ll take a take a more measured approach to add strength “to my tiny legs and little arms.”
But the competition remains brutal – featherweights moving up, light welterweights moving down, and 132-pound mainstays like the other 2012 Olympian, Queen Underwood, as salty as ever.
It all “makes for a lot of drama,” Brown lamented.
“We only have the three Olympic weights and that causes a lot of tension – friends have to fight friends for that one spot. So it’s hard going from a worlds team – where there’s all the weight classes and we’re a family – and then here comes the Olympic year and we’re like crabs in a bucket.”
“My best friend is (middleweight) Raquel Miller. And Claressa Shields, I’m like her big sister. They fight each other and I can’t cheer for either one of them. I just sit there with the saddest look on my face.”
The Olympic squeeze has resulted in more concrete hardships. Without the imprimatur of “Olympian,” Brown for a time went without a stipend from USA Boxing, though she now receives $700 a month. She has small sponsorships from a fledgling clothing line and a supplier of protein shakes, but it’s help from family and friends and PayPal contributions on her website that get her to events like the one in Spokane starting Monday.
“There’s a still a long way to go in this sport for women,” she said. “Which there shouldn’t be. When are they going to start treating us equally?”
Well, there’s some family experience with that question, so counsel isn’t far away.
In the meantime, Tiara Brown will keep fighting. And thinking big.
Lead photo credit: Tiara Brown has seen plenty of rings recently – including the ones she boxes in and the ones her moms exchanged. (Tyler Tjomsland)