"You have a puncher's chance all the time," the coach calls from behind the rope. "Don't stop punching."
Amanda Pavone hardly needs the encouragement. She boxes with a tightly wound fury, cornering her challenger on the ropes and between her arms.
It is June 11 and Pavone, a 5-foot-1-inch, 25-year-old amateur boxer, is training at Striking Beauties gym in North Attleboro, just over the Rhode Island border.
It's the last leg of her training for the women's national championship, a competition will help shape the US team for the first ever Olympics to feature women's boxing.
But Pavone, even after winning a New England championship in February, still isn't sure she'll be gunning for the Olympic team. Not at the moment, at least. The issue is weight class; in the 2012 Olympics there will only be three: 112, 132, and 165. Pavone usually fights at 119.
She has thought hard about trying to qualify at the other weights, and has come to some difficult conclusions. 112: "I don't know if it's physically possible." 132: "I would be nowhere as good, these girls really know how to drop weight." 165: "Crushed. Killed."
Still, she'll be fighting for a national championship, if nothing else.
Pavone arrives early on Saturday morning, unpacks her gear, ices her left arm, and stretches. She jumps rope, shadow boxes, stretches again, practices with pads, and spars. After two hours of practice, she runs for 45 minutes.
Pavone, a graduate of Johnson & Wales, is a chef; she works at Boston's Daily Catch. Her job makes it hard to eat right. "I'm around food all the time," she says, "it's hard not just to eat cake."
Now, Pavone has to concentrate on dropping to her proper weight class. Last week, she says, the scale stopped at 128, leaving her with two weeks to lose 10 pounds: "I have to lose muscle, it's awful." Fat is easy to gain, easy to lose she says. "It doesn't feel good to lose muscle, because you're strong. You can feel yourself getting weaker."
She has only been boxing for two years. Her coach, four-time world champion Jaime Clampitt, says that amazes most people who see her. But Pavone, apparently, was amazing from the start.
She says that she liked watching boxing when she was younger, and looked into trying it, but classes were expensive. After high school sports, she never even set foot in a gym. One night after work, she went to a bar with a friend. She had heard about a guy named Danny Kelly who wasn't exactly a trainer, but got people started boxing.
"I just begged him to let me punch mitts," she says.
Kelly, who owns Whitey's Pub in South Boston, says Pavone insisted that he try her out: "I said, 'not now, not now,' but she wore me down." So he let her suit up.
"I couldn't believe her enthusiasm, her power, her desperation to fight," he says. "In one jab she had unbelievable power, her right hand was an explosion of power.
"I told her it's not a one-way street, it's not just hitting—you'll be getting hit, it's traumatic. And she said 'Don't worry about me, don't worry about me, it'll only make me a better boxer.' She was right."