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At the 2007 Golden Gloves semifinals, she walked away with the national title.
But even when you're number one, amateur boxing doesn't pay the bills. So Swanson took a part-time job lifeguarding for City of Miami Beach Ocean Rescue, where she mans the colorful guard towers and once saved a French family from a riptide current.
Though she likes the job, the shifts are erratic, and she's never guaranteed more than a couple of days a week. Money can get tight. So she started taking classes at Broward Fire Academy and is training to become a paramedic. Still, something's missing. "I'm implosive, and boxing gives me release," she says.
Lately, she's been cursed by opponents' mysterious injuries, sudden sicknesses, last-minute cancellations. On the occasion when she can find a female sparring partner, they don't often match her skill level or weight bracket. Since a pro career is forged from a solid amateur record, the no-shows have left her out of practice. "It's hard," she says. "Some girls travel all the way to Jacksonville and can't get a fight."
Swanson had planned to go pro this past March. She was set to fight Atlanta-based slugger Jackie Breitenstein. Going pro meant the possibility of earning $6,000 to $30,000 for title fights, a fraction of what male boxers can earn. Boxing has always been a sport dominated by men; women's fights were more of a freak show than a sport when they began in the 1720s. In the United States, women weren't granted licenses to fight until the 1970s. But boxing is still the only sport in the Summer Olympics in which women are not allowed to compete. In Europe and Asia, where the sport is televised weekly, women sometimes score $50,000 a bout. In Germany, the Philippines, and India, female fighters receive stipends, housing, and grants. The United States has no such program.
Last March, trainers scheduled Swanson's match against Breitenstein at Mahi Temple, a 1,000-seat auditorium on the Miami River. ESPN often broadcasts fights from the venue, and wealthy fans arrive in 80-foot yachts. It could have been a turning point in her career — a chance to carve a reputation out of her opponent's puffy face. But Breitenstein was a no-show. She didn't want to make the long car trip, Swanson suspects. "It was frustrating."
On a recent weekday at her cozy but bare Hollywood apartment, Swanson picks up a poster that lies curled on the couch. It reads "Latin Fury: June 2009." In the front center is a photo of her in a blue bathing suit with her fists in the air. She is surrounded by mostly Hispanic pro male fighters. An off-camera fan is blowing through her long hair. She looks more like a Maxim model than a girl who crunches bones.
She tosses the poster back on the couch and shrugs. "Hey, if it gets you coverage, you can't knock it."
Swanson wakes at 6 a.m., sandwiched between her boyfriend and their jiggly bulldog, Rice. She slides out from under tan bed sheets on the muggy morning of July 8. It's two days before the fight. The white walls of her bedroom are blank and scuffed; the floor is littered with clothes. There's no time for cleaning or decorating with a schedule like hers. There's hardly time to train.
She does a sleepy shuffle past a bathroom scale, set in the middle of the living room. It's a reminder: She's three pounds over her weight bracket. That means no eating today. "Some girls sit in the sauna or take a laxative," she says. "It's whatever you have to do."
In a windowless kitchen, she chugs a glass of water and throws Rice a few scraps. Then she heads outside to the parking lot of Forrest Towers, a quiet West Hollywood rental community, and hops into her 2002 white Nissan Altima.
Around 8 a.m., she arrives at Pompano Beach Fire Station for paramedic classes. As usual, she's one of the only girls at the station. If it's a slow day today, she can slip out early, exercise, and register for the tournament. If it's busy, she'll have to rush to the hotel before the cutoff time.
A call comes in. It's a 20-year-old girl who crashed a car and needs help. Swanson hops into a rescue truck with the guys, and they arrive at the crash scene. The girl is OK, but they take her to North Broward Medical Center just to be cautious.
Swanson is famished when another caller summons. This time, it's an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease who has stabbed her caregiver with a fork. No serious injuries this time either.
By 5 p.m., Swanson's stomach is starting to eat itself. She still hasn't registered or weighed in for the tournament. Nor has she gotten to exercise. Class ends, and she books it to the Hilton to sign in. About 90 women have arrived from all over the country. The range in girls is vast: There are Army vets with linebacker shoulders and skinny waitresses with pigeon toes. The tournament starts tomorrow.
A blond reporter notices Swanson, sticks a tape recorder in her face. The reporter notes that Swanson might end up fighting Wolfe-Fenn. The reporter says Swanson would be the underdog. "Is that exciting?" she probes. "Do firefighters know you box? What do they think of that? And where does boxing fit in?" Swanson is honest. She doesn't really know.