Far from tapping out

Olympic hopeful boxer channels thirst for medals to coaching at Boulder’s new boxing gym

Courtesy of Carrie Barry

In 2009, more than 100 years after the first women’s boxing demonstration at the Olympics, headlines announced it would finally be accepted as an Olympic sport. For Carrie Barry, who had transitioned from the Army’s World Class Athlete’s Program to the USA Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, this meant a shot at a gold medal. Barry traded her work as a personal trainer for leather-laced hands and countless bells to signal a succession of exhausting rounds, all in a vigorous effort to beat the odds and become the first American to compete in the first ever Olympic women’s matches.

When women’s boxing made its debut at the 2012 Summer Games in London, a heartbroken Barry watched her training partner Queen Underwood become the first American woman to box at the Olympics, completing an aspiration she had diligently hunted. Weeks before in trials, she had stepped back and torn her ACL, a moment that caused Barry’s trajectory to unravel.

“It wasn’t until Queen won the slot at the trials that it hit me — it’s not me. I started crying and maybe people out there thought they were tears of joy, but it was heartbreaking because I had hoped it was me,” says Barry glancing around the walls of Boulder’s newest training facility, The Corner Boxing Club, owned by Carrie Barry and Kirsten Barry, her wife and an aspiring competitive boxer.

“I look around at the posters here and think, ‘That should be me.’ Then I come back to the thought, I wouldn’t have those posters up in my gym if that was me. I wouldn’t be here, doing what I’m doing,” Barry says. “London would have been one Olympics and then five years later, it fades out. This way, I’ll get to touch more lives and have more of an impact.”

The fade out Barry refers to is coined “athletes’ death.” It encapsulates the sudden shock and confusion after bringing an end to years of physical routine that have become an identity. When injury occurs or physical prime passes, many elite athletes find themselves at a loss for meaning with no clear transitions in mind after a life aimed solely at competition. Barry didn’t fall victim to this mental slump. She immediately redefined her purpose to supporting Underwood and, soon afterwards, toward pursuing another ambition she had tucked away all this time.

“Carrie has talked about opening a gym since the day that I met her,” says Pauline Macias, a USA Judo National Team Member, who first encountered Barry at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 2006. “At that time, she had already carried this vision for a long time. To see the support she has now is fantastic — I don’t think I’ve been to a gym where, when it first opens, so many people are coming in.”

“I believe the first preliminary talks of the idea of the gym were back in January of 2013,” says Kirsten Barry. “It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that, through saving and back pay from the Army that Carrie received, was more serious planning made.”

The Barrys’ set an ambitious timeline: accomplish a business plan by February followed by a whirlwind of logistics and meetings with business advisors including workshops at House of Genius, a Boulder based think tank, with a final goal of opening in June.

“Carrie had been thoroughly planning the details of this dream for years, and implementation is a strong point of hers. We had several different business advisors guiding us through the process. Polishing out our business plan, configuring our financial projections. All these things I was ironically in business school learning at the time, and then seeing then come to fruition at home was dazzling.”

“House of Genius was a huge catalyst of confidence and brainstorming from people I didn’t even know, “ says Barry. “It’s one thing for folks you know to rally behind you but when people you don’t know get excited it an additional push.”

Barry grew up under many roofs and jokes that the sport of boxing adopted her. A softball scholarship landed her in college, where she studied sports medicine and furthered her kinship with the sport of boxing.

“It’s a sport that bridges people,” says Barry. “Historically, it hasn’t mattered what race, background, socio-economic situation or sexual preference you come from, as soon as you get in the ring, there is only a piece of leather between us. It builds relationships. It forces you to interact with people you might not. I want this place to be a diverse place and I plan on making it happen.”

An ability to embrace her suddenly-changed circumstances may have kept Barry from her own athletes’ death, and given the Barrys a wider opportunity to make boxing an avenue for creating community.

“We take everyone from all walks of life, if you’ve been injured before or aren’t that coordinated … there’s all sorts of people who can come to find a home here,” says Kirsten Barry, who is one of many aspiring competitors to appoint Barry as their coach.

“I trust Carrie,” Macias says. “I knew when I was starting a transition from Judo to MMA, I needed to work with an elite athlete as to comprehend each other. When it comes to coaching, it’s not just about having knowledge, you have to be able to relate. She knows how to relate to different personalities and that makes her a great coach.”

Macias is making her own trajectory switch from an Olympic goal to the world of MMA.

Barry teases that she will show no favoritism to her wife while coaching and that she will have to check any stubbornness at the door.

“An ability to listen is more important  than being physical. If you can’t listen, you aren’t going anywhere,” she says.

Barry’s coaching extends to the Family Learning Center, where she works with young children and adolescents up to twice a week. She says she sees boxing not only as offering a physical outlet, but also as a way of building trust.

“Kids and adults alike don’t learn in a passive environment,” she remarks, just after having spoken to a class at the University of Colorado Boulder. “You learn through engagement and creativity — just sitting there copying slides, you might as well not even show up for class. You are wasting your time and probably should find a way to learn your trade through experience.”

Barry was the captain and member of the USA National Boxing Team from 2004 to 2012 and has been ranked as high as fifth in the world. Now a full time coach at The Corner, she partially credits her team physician with her quick mental turn around after losing a shot at the gold.

“The morning of my physical — we get them the morning of every single bout — my doctor was Dr. Robin Goodfellow,” says Barry. “She was the first female cardiac surgeon to graduate from Harvard. She’d been on a couple international trips with me for the U.S. team. I really admired her. I noticed she had a wig on. We were catching up and I asked her how she was doing. She replied that she was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer for the second time. Later that night, when I got hurt, she was the only one I would let touch me. Having her right there in that moment was a strong anchor for me to realize, ‘Yes my ACL is torn and I won’t be an Olympian, but I have my health, I’m going to heal from this. I have many good years ahead of me to do good things,’ and there she was, going through the chemo and she was very matter of fact, not at all complaining about what she was going through.

Getting to be Queen’s training partner right away and giving myself a sense of purpose was an important piece to the mental recovery.”

“Everybody has this thought of what a boxing gym is and about, and until they experience it, they are usually surprised by how much we take care of each other,” says Macias. “There’s respect.”

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