Boston winters can be brutally cold and icy, certainly not the most hospitable conditions for, say, an afternoon jog. So what is a female athlete to do in order to stay in shape and, more important, stay indoors?
Or so goes the story of Rosalie Louise Parker, former Harvard undergraduate, onetime international investment banker, current full-time student at SAIS and reigning U.S. amateur women's flyweight champion.
Parker's unique journey began in 1994 while a sophomore majoring in social studies at Harvard. She recalls a stroll through the school's athletic center with her roommate when she happened upon a sign-up sheet for the boxing club. Parker says she was intrigued by the prospect of stepping into the ring and, already a member of the school's women's rugby team, had no reservations about the sport's physical nature.
"I convinced my roommate to come with me and we would just try it," Parker says. "And from the very first moment I laced up those gloves, I just loved it, and it loved me back."
There was one problem, however: While the coach welcomed and encouraged women to participate, they were not permitted to spar. Women's boxing at the time was still in its infancy. The first USA Boxing-sanctioned match did not occur until October 1993, and prior to that time, it was illegal for a woman to fight competitively.
Undeterred, Parker cajoled the club's trainer into teaching her the sport's fundamentals. A quick learner, she would soon be teaching the club's male members boxing drills.
About this time, Parker had what she refers to as "her fortuitous injury." During a rugby match, Parker damaged her knee for the third time and had to have reconstructive surgery.
"That sort of spelled the end for me in terms of field sports or tennis," Parker says. "But boxing still worked for me; the range of motion that it required was not something that bothered my knee injury, so I stuck with it."
Yearning for actual competition, Parker went in search of a trainer in the Boston area who would work with women. An Internet chat-line response informed her of a trainer at the Boston Sports Boxing Club who taught women boxing techniques for fitness purposes. Later, in the quest for more guidance, she was introduced to Norman Stone, an accomplished boxing trainer, and he agreed to prepare Parker for competition.
In early 1997, her determination paid off with a victory at the inaugural New England Golden Gloves tournament. Parker says she savored the taste of victory and wondered what challenge lay next. Her trainer at the time, however, more or less advised her to quit while she was ahead.
"That was the standard reaction to my boxing career. I had no encouragement to compete. I had to push every step of the way to find people who would coach me and to find sparring partners," Parker says. "That is why I have an enormous respect for anyone with whom I step into the ring. I know she probably had to find her own way into boxing, the same as I did."
Meanwhile, Parker had life after Harvard on her mind and had to put her boxing career on hold. In her senior year, she was recruited by Wasserstein Perella & Co., an international investment banking and financial services firm. She leaped at the opportunity and became one of only two women investment bankers on a staff of 150.
Her first stop was the firm's office in New York, where on a "good week" she worked 90 hours, sometimes as many as 20 hours a day. Parker says the routine was a killer.
"I did not react well to being locked into a cubicle for that amount of time," she says. "It certainly did not suit my personality to spend so much time in front of a computer."
Parker describes herself as a sort of free spirit with an urge to roam. Her parents, both graduates of Hopkins' School of Medicine, took her abroad frequently while she was growing up in a Boston suburb and had spurred her love of exotic, faraway places.
Seeking adventure, Parker moved on to Paris, where she found a job in the financial advisory services division of PricewaterhouseCooper. Parker says the year she spent in France was "a dream," but she eventually reached a point when even the fine Parisian breads and cheeses could not keep her there.
Looking to return to school, Parker sent away for catalogs from graduate schools that taught international studies. In the end, she applied to only one school, SAIS.
"I was looking at all the courses that I could take at SAIS, and I just got totally excited," Parker says. "This is the stuff I wanted to do, and I figured, if you are going to study international affairs, you have to be in D.C."
Parker began classes this fall and is enrolled in the school's Energy, Environment, Science and Technology Program. Her specific interest lies in U.S. investments in Third World or developing nations' natural resources. In particular, she wants to focus on former Soviet Bloc countries, which she says are in dire need of American know-how and capital to unlock their caches of natural resources. To do so, she already has a fight plan.
"There need to be incentives so these nations can get the investments they require," Parker says. "It should be a partnership, and not exploitation."
Parker says she "absolutely loves" her classes and the time spent with her classmates. She also still loves her boxing.
She resumed her amateur career last January, this time with an increased determination and sights set on the 2000 Women's U.S. championships that would be held in April in Midland, Texas.
Parker reached her goal, winning the flyweight (106 to 112 pounds) division. It was her "greatest moment ever."
"It was the culmination of a lot of work," she says. "And I must admit, I enjoy winning. My friends will tell you, I certainly have a competitive streak."
Amateur boxing differs from the professional ranks in that it's scored differently and participants wear headgear, use "puffier" gloves and are protected by referees who will stop the match if someone is not able to defend him or herself. Still, Parker says, the sport is surely not without its risks.
"That is something I approach very seriously," she says. "I don't assume I can never get hurt doing this sport, and I never get in the ring and joke around."
The popularity of the sport has swelled in recent years, and there are currently 1,300 female boxers registered with USA Boxing. Parker says that attitudes toward woman athletes are slowly changing, but preconceptions and prejudice still exist. When she tells people what she does in her spare time, Parker says she is often greeted with a very surprised look.
"I think they associate a certain stereotype with boxing, which in my experience in the sport is not a valid one," she says. "Many of the women I box against are smart and interesting, women who have careers and children. These are not the brutes you see on television who have trouble forming a complete sentence."
Presently, Parker fights once or twice a month and is training regularly in preparation for the upcoming world championships, to be held in November 2001.
Amid all her studies and training, she also finds time to score some frequent flier miles.
On her agenda is a much anticipated trip to Africa. An avid scuba diver, Parker says she plans to log some underwater time off the coast of South Africa, in waters she realizes contain some rather heavyweight predators. When asked about the possibility of a run-in with Jaws, Parker says it does not deter her in the least.
"It is my personality to take my fears and face them," she says. "Yet, honestly, I would rather not meet any sharks if I could help it. I'm not sure a shark would be impressed with my flyweight credentials."