The reputation of the “Notre Dame experience” brings many ideas to mind: top-tier education, competitive sports, strong community, deeply rooted faith life and more. For some, an integral part of the Notre Dame experience comes in an unexpected form — Baraka Bouts, the women’s boxing club on campus. Each year, the club holds a three-night tournament in which members compete against each other and raise money for two schools operated by the Congregation of Holy Cross in Uganda. This year, the club raised over $77,000 to build a new dorm at St. Joseph’s Hill Secondary School. As the largest all-female club at Notre Dame and the largest women’s boxing club in the world, Baraka Bouts is a one-of-a-kind aspect of the Notre Dame experience.
The third and final round of the Baraka Bouts Tournament was held on Nov. 15. Nine competitors emerged victorious: Lindsey “Smol Ranger” Michie, Ellie “The Hammer” Hammerschmitt, Sarah “Midshipmenace” Nowak, Cece “Ginga Ninja” Giarman, Lily “The Chelsea Dagger” Whitman, Ocean “The Matador” Leto, Kim “The Grillmaster” Nguyen, Frankie “Frank the Tank” Masciopinto and J.J. “Soldier Boy” Jorgenson.
These fighters come from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of experience. The club is open to all years, and most members don’t have any boxing experience before joining. For some, such as Michie, it was their first time competing in the tournament, and the hard-earned win came as a surprise.
“I was honestly shocked,” the senior said when asked about her reaction to the victory. “Despite my performance in the second and third rounds, I still thought I had lost, so I was super pumped to hear my name called and loved seeing my friends’ reactions in the crowd.”
Michie had never participated in the tournament before but realized it would be her last chance to do so before graduating.
“Baraka Bouts is something uniquely Notre Dame, and something I consider required to get the full Notre Dame experience. I had always wanted to participate, as I’m a very competitive person, but (I) always made excuses to not commit (during) my time at Notre Dame.”
For others, this wasn’t their first time in the ring. Senior Cece Giarman, a captain and vice president of the club, is a fourth-year boxer. Like for many of her competitors, boxing has been a formative part of her college experience.
“Getting into the ring is sort of like riding a bike. It all kind of clicks and you just go.” Giarman said.
Junior Ellie Hammerschmitt, a captain and third-year boxer, shared a similar experience. “That anxiety is always a mixture of nerves and excitement,” she said. “The second the bell rings, all of the nerves leave me and I am ready to go.”
Yet despite that muscle memory, the path to victory isn’t easy. Even for experienced boxers, there are still many challenges to face and overcome. Giarman emphasized the fact that each day of training requires immense focus and willpower and that there are always methods of improvement, even for more experienced boxers. Nowak, a club captain and third-year boxer, said there are no guarantees or shoo-ins in the tournament.
“The other boxers in my bracket are all very talented and hard-working, so I knew none of my bouts would be automatic wins,” the junior said.
While physical strength was an integral part of victory for each of these boxers, there is little doubt that mental toughness plays an important role as well. Michie pointed out how finding the right mindset can sometimes be the biggest hurdle to overcome.
“I think the greatest challenge of Baraka Bouts is stepping into the ring knowing it's OK to get a few hard hits,” she said. “No one likes the feeling of losing or getting beat, but in boxing it’s a constant back and forth of offense and defense, you can’t ever get comfortable.”
It takes significant determination to undergo the training for competition. Stepping into the ring, especially in front of a large audience, requires tremendous courage. Sometimes, the greatest opponent can be one’s own body. Nguyen, a sophomore and second-year boxer, spoke to this struggle.
“I think the challenge is just showing up and trying to be better than who you were the day before. At this point, I'm more concerned with how I can improve and see how my body can perform for me,” Nguyen said.
Of course, many boxers were motivated more by personal goals than anything that happened in front of an audience.Giarman, for example, won her weight class last year as well. This year was more focused on personal improvement.
“I worked more intentionally on certain aspects of my training and fitness as a whole, not with the intent of winning but because it would be my last year to compete,” she said.
Win or lose, Giarman wanted to give her final year her very best effort – and that hard work paid off. Baraka Bouts is a club that encourages and emphasizes giving 100%, even on the hardest of days, because that’s when true growth occurs.
Such dedication is possible due to the strong community that the club fosters. Though the women fight each other inside the ring, their relationships run much deeper.
“The dichotomy between girls in and outside the ring is incredible,” Michie said. “In the ring we’re all game on, but outside I met some of the kindest and most welcoming girls at Notre Dame.”
Each member not only works to be her very best but also encourages those around her. While there were ultimately nine champions in the tournament, the work and effort it took to get there was the product of the whole group.
“I think it's a beautiful thing to get to be a part of something that is so special about Notre Dame,” Nguyen said.
Through Baraka Bouts, members get the opportunity to push themselves to their limits and learn from others, pushing those around them to grow as well. Competitive but collaborative, each participant works hard and hopes for victory, yet offers support when others prove victorious. Each of those nine champions poured her heart and soul into a hard-earned victory, working toward a common goal and building every other member up along the way.
And what could be more Notre Dame than that