Saved by the Bell

The so-called sweet science wasn’t a sport so much as it was a lifeline for Fisher, an aimless dropout who was seemingly down for the count—at least until she walked into the IUP Boxing Club gym and laced up a pair of gloves.

A fashion merchandising major who graduated in December, Fisher proved a quick study. Though still wet behind the ears, she decisioned two-time U.S. champion Cristina Cruz to claim the 119-pound elite title at the Police Athletic League national boxing tournament in San Antonio in October. As Fisher hoisted the massive championship belt to resounding cheers at Municipal Auditorium, few in the crowd could have guessed at the dark period that preceded her meteoric rise in the sport.

Fact is, her personal life was once a mess. Fisher had a falling-out with her parents after telling them she was gay; she was no longer welcome at her home in Deptford, N.J. (Fisher and her parents have since been reconciled.) Distraught, she began failing her classes and eventually left school in midsemester. She lacked direction, lacked focus, lacked drive.

“I was in a funk for about a year,” said Fisher, who returned to IUP in Fall 2008. “Boxing helped pull me out of it. Boxing has kind of made me feel alive again, I guess, because I was very depressed for like a year. I went through a lot. I lived in like nine different places in a year. I needed something to do. And that’s kind of how I got into boxing.”

Incredibly, Fisher claimed the prestigious PAL title only eight months after losing her debut—a bout that followed barely a week of training. In the veritable blink of an eye, a raw neophyte blossomed into a national champion and a contender for the 2012 London Olympic Games, the first to feature women’s boxing.

“It’s just amazing how far she’s come,” IUP coach Rick Fanella said. “She is a viable candidate for the Olympics, which is really remarkable, considering how long she’s been boxing.”

Lauren Fisher with her championship belt

Lauren Fisher with her championship belt

Fisher, who owned a 9-3 record at press time, compensates for her inexperience with a phenomenal fitness level—she lettered in basketball and track for IUP before casting her fortunes in the ring—exceptional quickness, and a matchless work ethic, all wrapped up in a taut, muscled package. Assistant coach Mike Donatelli realized right away that Fisher was a diamond in the rough.

“What makes her such an outstanding boxer? It’s her dedication, her discipline, her attitude, and her willingness to learn,” said Donatelli, who fashioned a 69-6 record in the 1980s as an Indiana County Athletic Club boxer under 1949 IUP grad Johnny Kostas and twice fought future world champion Michael Moorer in Golden Gloves competition.

“She’s definitely a mile ahead of her peers, she really is. If you watch her fight, it looks like she has much more experience than she actually has.”

Watch Fisher fight, and something else is readily apparent: For someone of her stature (5-foot-4, 117 pounds), she packs a seismic punch. Even her male sparring partners occasionally wind up on their backsides.

“I’ve seen Lauren knock at least a half-dozen guys to the floor, and one through the ropes,” Fanella said. “For a physically small woman, she hits like a ton of bricks. Her power is very noticeable.”

Fisher’s opponents in San Antonio can attest to that. She pursued Harita Aleem around the ring “like a pit bull,” according to Fanella, before winning their semifinal bout on a second-round technical knockout. Fisher stayed aggressive in the final against Cruz, a seasoned Golden Gloves champion with more than fifty fights on her résumé, several of them against international foes.

“I knew that she had the experience that I don’t have, but I wasn’t really intimidated by her,” Fisher said. “I try to tell myself to do certain things when I’m in the ring: fight my fight, stay positive, and throw punches in bunches. I repeat those things before I go into the ring. And once the bell rings, I give it my all. So that’s what I did.”

She then did something totally out of character in a sport where champions rarely reveal the humanity beneath their tough-as-nails façades: She broke down in tears.

“Lauren was a little embarrassed by that,” Fanella said. “But after achieving what you’ve worked so hard for, and overcoming the adversity that she did, she just had an emotional release.”

Her triumph in Texas qualified Fisher for the U.S. championships this summer in Colorado Springs, Colo., and was expected to catapult her into the top three in the USA Boxing rankings. Invitations to international events are likely to follow.

“USA Boxing fights around the world all the time—they just took a women’s team to Ecuador,” Fanella said. “By my calculations, Lauren will be number-three in the country at 119, which puts her on the short list of who USA Boxing is going to call to represent the United States to fight internationally. And fighting internationally would give her more confidence, greater skill development … all those other variables that you can’t get at the local level.”

Fisher is already visualizing success on a global level.

“If I were to map it out the way I want it, I would go to the Olympics in 2012 and win a gold medal,” she said. “From there, I would get my first world title after boxing in the pros for a while. And then I want to just stack up more world titles.”

Lofty ambitions for a relative newcomer to the game, to be sure, but don’t discount her. As opponents have discovered, it’s sheer folly to underestimate Fisher, who found almost immediate success—as well as salvation—in the boxing ring.

“I expect great things from her in the future,” Donatelli said. “Lauren has a great chance of making the Olympic team if she sticks with it and maintains the same path she’s going on right now and the same attitude. I think she’s going to go far.”

More from the Winter 2010 Issue of IUP Magazine

South Eleventh Street

Then and Now

A lot has changed at IUP over 135 years. These photos compare a few campus vistas of today with how they looked in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties.

Students in the Oak Grove between classes

IUP by the Numbers

In Fall 2009, IUP experienced its all-time greatest enrollment. For many of its 135 years, the institution has had remarkably stable numbers, for the most part growing steadily.

Above the Caption

Marvin Hamlisch, Bob Woodward, and Bill Strickland, and more

Mentors and Achievements

Faculty highlights; awards and honors

Namedroppers

IUP’s annual Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony and more athletics news

IUP Magazine Web Exclusives

Professor N. Bharathan speaks with a student

The Academic Experience 

January 15, 2010
Faculty, staff, and administration at IUP share one vision: academic excellence.

Melissa Rogers reads a comic book

Serious about Comics

December 15, 2009
For Melissa Rogers, comic books are serious business.

Scott McGuire ’90

Band of Brothers

November 14, 2009
Scott McGuire’s diagnosis of ALS brought his TKE brothers together again.