FORT CARSON, Colo. (July 24, 2014) -- Two female Soldiers recently won national Golden Gloves championships, bringing the number of female amateur boxing national champions in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program to four.
Pfc. Alexandra Love and Pvt. Rianna Rios won their weight classes July 12, at the 2014 National Women's Golden Gloves Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, teammates Spc. Melissa Parker and Spc. Fallon Farrar finished second in other divisions of the Golden Gloves Championships, but Parker was the 125-pound Golden Gloves national champ in 2013, and Farrar swept the 152-pound 2013 crowns at the USA Boxing, Golden Gloves and Police Athletic League Championships.
Love defeated Jennifer Amato of Keene, Massachusetts, to claim the 106-pound division of the Women's Golden Gloves Championships. Love also prevailed at the 2014 USA Boxing National Championships in Spokane, Washington.
"She's a fierce Soldier-athlete," WCAP head boxing coach Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette said. "I call her my little pit viper. There's no challenge out there that she won't take and achieve. She's one of those Soldier-athletes that you don't have to worry about giving it her all. She's very dedicated, and that makes my job a lot easier."
Standing 5-feet, 1-inch, Love is accustomed to throwing "a lot of overhand rights" at taller opponents. "Since all my teammates are taller than me, I'm prepared for that kind of fight," she said.
"I've won everything this year," said Love, 25, a two-time U.S. Nationals champion from Monroe, Washington, with a career record of 53-8. "I joined this program because I was missing coaching. Now I have two incredible coaches."
Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman assists Leverette with coaching the WCAP boxers.
"WCAP changed my life," Love said. "It gave me a career and a chance to make something more of myself than I could have before. Getting into the ring [and] being a Soldier representing the United States is an honor I can't describe."
A multi-sport athlete who played basketball, volleyball, tennis and ran track at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Washington, Love began boxing in 2010, when she was cross training for basketball. Now her sights are set on winning an Olympic gold medal. Asked if she will be ready to contend for a spot in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Love confidently replied: "I'm going."
"Due to boxing being put in the Olympics, women's boxing has really picked up because now there is a way for them to go," Love said. "Before, it ended at nationals. Now, there's that next level."
Leverette likes Love's chances of making Team USA for the 2016 Olympic Games.
"She's grown in the sport," he said. "When we first got her, she just wanted to fight, fight, fight, fight. We have calmed her down a little bit and she's started believing in what we're teaching. Now, if we have to turn that fight switch on, she can get it, but she's boxing. She has a great chance. She's right there."
Rios defeated Ashleigh Moore of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, by a unanimous decision for the 125-pound Golden Gloves crown.
"She was a wild fighter, so I dominated by counter punching," explained Rios, 19, of Alice, Texas.
Rios played basketball at Benbolt High School, but she grew up watching her father train for boxing. She began boxing at age 10, and fought nearly 60 bouts by age 18.
Rios also prevailed at the Adidas National Police Athletic League Tournament June 21, in Oxnard, California, shortly after completing Army Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
"WCAP has allowed me to continue to follow my dreams, but also have a career," Rios said. "A gold medal in Rio is my goal. Not only am I able to wear the uniform, but I'm also able to compete representing my country in the ring."
"The sky's the limit," Leverette said of Rios' chances of boxing in Rio de Janeiro, site of the 2016 Olympic Games. "She's a young, talented Soldier-athlete, a very promising athlete who is very exciting to watch. She dominated the Junior Olympics as a female, so we're very excited about her. Her success rides on training, dedication and execution."
Rios, like Love, likely will compete for the Team USA spot at 112 pounds, currently occupied by Olympic flyweight bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, of Houston, the first American female boxer to qualify for the Olympics.
Leverette enjoys the idea of having two Soldiers boxing as underdogs for the same spot at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women's Boxing.
"I don't think there's going to be any love lost, but it's going to be a good show," he said. "We're here to put some Soldier-athletes on the Olympic team to represent the U.S. Army and the World Class Athlete Program. That's our goal."