Palmerton woman wins national boxing championship
Palmerton native Janel Tracy stands in her corner in front of coach Jenaro Diaz. Tracy, who had no boxing experience prior to entering the US Military Academy, recently became a national champion in the sport. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
In her four spring seasons as a shortstop for Palmerton High School she threw bullets from deep in the hole to get runners out. In the winters, she shot baseline jumpers for the Bomber basketball team.
Just two weeks ago, Janel Tracy threw again, but not softballs or basketballs. This time, representing the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, she threw right-and left-hand punches to defeat previously unbeaten Jeannette Steerman of Navy to win the Women’s National Club Boxing Championship belt in the 156-pound division.
Yet, that’s not the most extraordinary part of the story. Until last year, Tracy had never stepped into a ring or laced up boxing gloves.
“Unless you count the Wii boxing video game or watching the Rocky movies, I had zero experience,” she said. “At West Point, you have to play a sport. I didn’t make the softball team as a walk on, so my friend and I decided to give club boxing a try with no idea of what we were doing.”
Just three years ago, the former First Team Colonial League All-Star and Honorable Mention All-State softball player had celebrated the Bombers district championship win over Notre Dame of Green Pond with her teammates.
“The energy in that game was unbelievable,” she said. “It was a back-and-forth close game, and kind of a fairy tale finish for us because we won it on Palmerton’s senior night, so we had a double celebration after the game.”
Tracy’s first post-high school inclination was to enter the state police academy; that was until she went to watch a West Point women’s basketball game when she was in her junior year at Palmerton.
“I just loved the whole environment of the game,” she said. “The culture of the team, the discipline, and the teamwork and interaction between the cadets. I found out that many of the girls there had come from severe hardships while growing up, and now each of them seemed to be her own person, but playing basketball as a team in such a prestigious place.”
Unfortunately for Tracy, her newfound desire to attend West Point had come a bit late as the application deadline had passed her by. She persevered anyway with her 3.7 GPA and her list of extracurricular activities, which included leadership roles in student council and other high school clubs. With letters of recommendation written by her English teacher Bonnie Tavella, and basketball coach, Donald Delich, plus some help from family friend Rhett Hernandez — who recently retired from the military — Tracy sent her application.
Due to her late send and less-than-desirable SAT scores, she needed to spend a year at the United State’s Military Academy’s Preparatory School. After not making the softball team, it was there that she decided to try club boxing.
Tracy described the team tryout as if the event was a free-for-all.
“They just wanted to see who could take a punch and keep attacking,” she said. “I just kept getting after it with absolutely no skill or technique and I was real sore through the tryouts, too.”
She made the boxing team. Upperclassmen and coaches then began to teach her boxing techniques.
“In softball, we were taught to turn our hips into the swing, and it’s the same principle when you throw a punch,” Tracy said. “That’s how you get your power.”
As a freshman, Tracy boxed in the 147-pound weight class and struggled against bigger and more experienced fighters, losing some close decisions.
This year, after improving her strength and stamina through an intense training program, she stepped up in weight class.
“The heavier the class, the fewer opponents there are, but those you fight are often taller and very strong,” she said.
Through forfeited victories, Tracy qualified to represent the East at Nationals held this month at West Point. In her first bout, she won by decision over Monica Mammah from Air Force.
“Our coach preaches to us that we have to chop the tree down from the bottom up,” she said. “I attacked her with body punches to get her breathing harder and to make her fatigued.
“Then I went for her head when I felt it was harder for her to keep her hands up and defend herself.”
In the championship fight, Steerman was in attack mode from the opening bell.
“She was really big and relentless and I could really feel her punches,” said Tracy. “I followed my plan to move side to side and counter punch from different angles rather than take her on straight up.”
Tracy’s strategy worked perfectly. The referee paused the fight twice to give Steerman standing eight counts and check on the extent of her bleeding.
After raising her hand in victory with a unanimous decision, Tracy and West Point had also won the team championship.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” she said. “My dad and mom, who had a hard time with the idea that I was a boxer, said their stomachs were turning during the entire match,”
Next year, Tracy’s goal is to win another championship belt for her Army team. She has set her long-range goal to become a member of a police academy or continue her career in the military where she will join another fighting team, but not one that battles opponents inside a boxing ring.
“I would like to become an officer in the armor tank division,” she said. “I want to be a combat girl.”
Whether it be firing punches with her fists, or someday firing shells with a tank gun, Janel Tracy has already proven that she knows how to fight and she knows how to win.