Heads turn to look when Hanna Gabriel walks by. Even those who don’t follow the sport of boxing notice her striking good looks, her trim muscular body, the long black dreadlocks that bounce down her back and her knockout smile. She is not your average boxer.
But after a brief fight career counting six wins with three knockouts and one draw, this young woman has won the title of Latin American women’s champion, after defeating Mexican Nayeli Vásquez in a Nov. 15 match.
Her being a boxer is not as strange as it seems. Her father once boxed under the name of Leslie Ramírez. And the 25- year-old fighter was athletic long before she entered the ring. A native of Alajuela, northwest of the capital, she was a trackand- field star at her high school in nearby San Antonio de Belén.
“I did everything: hurdles, relays, 400 meters, 800 meters, jumps,” she says. And she took first places in the national games, competing with the country’s top athletes.
Unfortunately, sponsorship is scarce for amateur sports programs, even more so for women’s sports. At 16, Gabriel missed a chance to participate in the Pan American Games in Miami because there was no money for it.
“I learned about it the night before, and I cried,” she recalls.
Following graduation, and seeing no future in sports, she headed to southern California in the United States and worked in beauty and aesthetics. There, she earned good money and learned English, but it was not how she wanted to spend her life. After she returned to Alajuela, her father suggested she work out at the boxing gym at the National Gymnasium in west-side San José’s La Sabana Park to get back into sports.
“At first it was hard. Some men at the gym said it was not a girls’ sport,” she says, adding that her own trainer, Ezequiel Obando, had once said he would never train women boxers. “But I’m a warrior. I don’t like easy stuff.
“Boxing is a complex sport. It requires conditioning, discipline, consistency and, most of all, respect.”
Now, with recognition as a real woman warrior, she has earned the applause of her colleagues and the public. She is proud of her winning record but has not lost the pleasant personality that has won over her fans. They ask for autographs and get them.
Daily training is vigorous, but this energetic, five-foot-seven-inch, 154-pound fighter can do. She runs in the mornings and trains at the National Gymnasium in the afternoons, and, when she can, she runs or exercises more in the evenings.
Discipline and diet are key. “The body works better with proper care and food,” she says, but admits to giving in to temptation sometimes, describing a nightmare about eating chocolates the night before a weigh-in.
Women’s boxing differs from the men’s sport. Rounds are two minutes with a oneminute rest between rounds, and Gabriel’s matches stand at eight rounds for now. With more experience under her championship belt, she will fight 10-rounders.
No boyfriends are in the picture right now, as training and career come first. Time is also spent at home with four sisters and brothers and mom and dad. “They believed in me from the beginning,” she says, and they are her biggest fans.
Gabriel’s winning record and popularity have earned her a sponsor, Otero’s Pizza, which provides financial backing and promotes her boxing events. The restaurant also provides pizzas for her family, she says with a grin.
As Latin America’s women’s boxing representative, Gabriel has an even greater challenge ahead. The World Boxing Association has scheduled her a fight next month in Germany, where both the weather and the competition will be tough. As always, Gabriel will train, work out, think positive and carry through.
Gabriel’s looks suggest a second career as a model; she has done some modeling, but, except for “maybe sports clothes,” she says she’s not interested. Instead, she wants to work with kids promoting sports and has done motivational workshops with children at soccer camps. She sees this as one goal for when her boxing days are done.
“Teaching respect in sports is important,” she stresses. “Being a boxer does not give you the right to hurt someone or damage someone. You have to learn to respect the person in front of you.”
Hair and clothes might not seem to be important factors for boxers, but one of Gabriel’s problems in the ring is how to wear her long dreadlocks, which tend to bounce around and even cover her face as she punches. She’s still seeking a solution but says she will absolutely not cut it.
As for what to wear, she designed herself a tunic over Lycra shorts and a tank top. Black is her color in the ring. As for the Women’s Championship belt she now sports: “It’s pink,” the woman warrior says with a laugh.