The image that greets visitors to the Gold's Gym in Deerfield Beach is that of Chasity Martin, a 17-year-old boxing phenom wearing pink gloves, with two championship belts draped over her intimidating, caramel-colored biceps. On the poster, which dominates the building's beige façade, the disembodied torsos of male fighters orbit hers.
The real-life version of Chasity can almost always be found through the gym's doors. She practically lives in the ring.
"I'm here every day for two or three hours," she explains. "It's not typical for even a professional boxer, but it keeps me out of trouble."
She makes a good point. Before getting into boxing, this girl who prefers the company of boys says she was the target of merciless teasing in her neighborhood. But she had no problem standing up for herself -- and it turned out scrapping was a hidden talent. Still, victory wasn't always sweet. Chasity remembers getting jumped by a classmate and her 20-year-old sister. Although she beat them both, that fight helped the budding pugilist turn a corner, realizing she shouldn't be "fighting in the streets."
She did the regular organized-sports rundown, trying her idle hands at basketball, swimming, and soccer. Eventually, she ended up at a now-defunct gym in Pompano Beach called 12th Round Boxing and MMA Fitness Center, where she asked what opportunities were available to girls like her. A man named Sergio introduced her to the idea of strip-club boxing. She was 14.
Though she never joined them, at 12th Round, Chasity also met a group of grown women who made a good living touring Miami and West Palm Beach clubs. One was 22-year-old Charity, who had dreamed of becoming a professional athlete but had gotten caught up in the promise of easy money. Still, Charity was a good friend to the teenager, driving her to practice and teaching her techniques Sergio couldn't.
"I was young, and I wasn't aware of what could go on in that environment," she says of strip clubs. "Now I feel like it's disrespectful to women's boxing."
Soon, Chasity let it slip to her mom, who flipped when she heard her daughter's career plans. With her tail between her legs, the young fighter found herself at Gold's Gym in Deerfield. Although Sergio had told her the strip-club scene was the only place girls could fight, she hoped someone there would know of another opportunity.
Stacy McKinley, who has a bald head and a Tom Waits growl, had trained four Olympic gold medalists and household names like Mike Tyson, but never a girl. "I'm kinda from the old school," he says. "Back then, girls just did not box."
So when the precocious 14-year-old she started showing up at his gym, he trained her as he would a boy. He realized she was serious when she rattled off the names of boxers she admired, like Christy Martin and Laila Ali. Turns out she also had a mean left hook, a good amount of stamina, and a total lack of fear.
Chasity still remembers McKinley taping up her hands to let her shadowbox for the first time. "It made me feel like I was a real fighter," she says.
Three years later, the two have an almost father-daughter relationship. "He has a 29-year-old daughter, but she's grown," Chasity explains. "He doesn't have anyone else around." Under his tutelage, Chasity's star has catapulted. The former troublemaker is now the third-best female boxer in the country. The rigorous training has also gotten her head screwed on straight: She plans to graduate from Monarch High School next year and attend Broward College, eventually transferring to Florida Atlantic University.
Although she's glad to have made it away from the strip-club boxing circuit and has the 2016 Olympics on her mind, she recognizes that Charity, who's still performing in South Florida strip clubs, helped pave the way for her success as a true athlete just as much as McKinley.
"She pushed me a lot," she says during a break at Gold's Gym. "And even though she didn't make it, I did."
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