San Carlos’ fighter shows that boxing is about conquering yourself, not others
By Jenn Walker
If you step into the San Carlos Fitness Center in the evening, you might spot Amelia McIntosh delivering fast blows to punch mitts, moving quickly around trainer Eric Shin as she lets out short breaths against her mouth guard. Clad in pink Title boxing gloves, a red headband and a black Geronimo T-shirt with the words “Rise & Assert,” the 24-year-old San Carlos native is fast on her feet.
One afternoon I sit in on their practice. They carry out three rounds, each two minutes long. Shin directs her punches. As I stand against the wall observing, I begin to notice a steady rhythm to their movement.
“Low, two, one-two-three-two, go!” he says, moving toward her. She ducks. They pick up the pace.
“Block, catch roll, pull out, under, three, touch, back,” he continues. Her body reacts as he utters each word, delivering brisk upper cuts and hooks as he brings the mitts to each side of her face and waist. Suddenly the bell on Shin’s phone rings. They exchange a quick hug and take another break.
As Shin puts it, McIntosh is a success story. You would never know it, but a little more than a year ago, she weighed 206 pounds.
“I was teased a lot,” she recalls, taking a quick break to the side. “People I thought were my friends called me fat.”
Last year she decided she was going to lose weight. Suddenly she was spending every day at the gym, running on a consistent basis, and eating healthier.
Earlier this year, she began taking Shin’s Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) classes. By that time, she was already down to 170 pounds. A couple months into Shin’s class, she shed another 20.
“His class was just, man, so exhausting, so intense, and it fit me because that’s what I wanted,” she says. “I love it. I love training, I love hitting.”
At the time Shin had no intentions to train a fighter, he was simply providing classes at the fitness center to help members get in shape. A former fighter himself, Shin has been boxing since 2003 or 2004, long before he ever came to Globe from Chicago. Like McIntosh, his initial intent was to lose weight. He still remembers how he felt halfway through his first class. His hands were shaking and he felt nauseous. He was hooked.
Watching McIntosh in his classes, Shin saw a similar level of dedication, and began training her for a Muay Thai fight. Two weeks beforehand, they learned there were no female competitors she could fight against, so Shin trained her for a boxing competition instead.
Due to miscommunication, McIntosh thought she would have to fight a male competitor. Days before, she confessed to Shin that she was nervous.
“She was amping up for it,” Shin laughs. “She was still going to do it.”
“That’s when I thought, ‘Wow, I think I have a real fighter. My respect for Amelia went way up,'” he says.
Needless to say, she was prepared, and did well in the match. People came up to Shin and McIntosh to compliment them on the fight afterward. They said she was one of the better-trained fighters. Her family and friends were impressed.
“No one really expected me to be a fighter, I guess because I’m not that type of person,” McIntosh says. “After my first fight, a lot of friends and people around me got inspired, maybe not to box, but to be fit.”
“I never thought I would help or inspire people,” she adds.
Shin is quick to remind that, whether or not people realize it, there is so much more to boxing than the four minutes in the ring.
“This is not about ‘Let’s see how many people I can beat up,'” he explains. “You can act as tough as you want, but once you’re in the ring you can see who’s got it and who doesn’t… Not everyone’s going to be a competitor like Amelia.”
For a true fighter, the real battle lies in the time spent outside the ring. It requires daily self improvement. Ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, a fighter is still improving upon himself or herself, honing skills and techniques to become an even better fighter and competitor.
“We are constantly trying to build on what we have,” he says. “There is no end to it.”
Training is intense, and an integral part of McIntosh’s daily routine. When McIntosh isn’t working, she is usually training.
“I wake up, go to work, go home, change, and then come to the gym,” McIntosh says. “It’s not easy, it takes up most of my time… I want it to take most of my time.”
McIntosh and Shin train together five days a week, maybe more if a fight is coming up. Footwork is crucial. Sometimes Shin lays out a ladder for McIntosh to do “ladder drills,” where she moves her feet in and out of the rungs. Or he’ll have her do “dot drills,” where she hop scotches over dots on the floor. Both improve speed and agility.
They also work on balance, mitt work, sparring, strength training, circuit training, and most importantly, cardio. Cardio equals stamina.
“It’s not the better boxer that wins, it’s the boxer who can outlast the other,” Shin explains.
In between sparring with Shin, McIntosh jump ropes in two-minute intervals, and runs to get her heart rate up and warm up her muscles. This allows her to move fluidly.
Beyond physical dedication, a good fighter requires mental commitment, not unlike the mentality required for swimming or cross country. Above physical strength, each requires a strong mind.
“That’s the true essence of a fighter,” Shin says. “They call it a fighter’s heart.”
Proving his point, I spot McIntosh jump roping in the corner again as Shin continues.
“My job is to make it so hard she doesn’t want to do it anymore,” he says.
“It makes me so mad,” McIntosh laughs. “But it feels so good after.”
Since McIntosh first picked up boxing, her focus has shifted. She is no longer worried about her weight.
“All of a sudden it wasn’t about losing weight,” she says. “It was about improving myself, getting fit, getting better.”
Aside from a smaller pant size, she notices other perks to her new lifestyle. She is happier, thinks faster on her feet, feels less stressed and has more confidence and self-esteem.
For anyone who wants to follow her example, McIntosh offers one piece of advice.
“You have to be serious about it. You have to give it your all.”
Just as I get ready to leave the fitness center, McIntosh is on her feet yet again, shadow boxing across the room.
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.