FORT CARSON, Colo. (July 18, 2014) -- For the first time in program history, the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program has an equal number of men and women competing in the once male-dominated sport of boxing.
When Sgt. Felisha Estrada-Gonzalez joined WCAP in July, the elite group of Army boxers became five women and five men training to make Team USA for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Spc. Fallon Farrar, Spc. Melissa Parker, Pfc. Alexandra Love and Pvt. Rianna Rios are the other women in the program. Capt. Derae Crane, Staff Sgt. Reyes Marquez, Spcs. Charles Williams, Marquis Moore and Steven Nelson are the men.
The roster was not evenly balanced by design.
"When I first became involved with the Army World Class Athlete Program it was a male-dominated sport because female boxing was not allowed as an Olympic sport, therefore the program only had male boxers. It was a pretty robust men's boxing team," said WCAP Chief Willie Wilson, who also served as WCAP's first sergeant from 2001 through 2004.
"There are several females -- at this point five -- who are elite-level boxers that are in the Army who would like to be a part of this program," Wilson continued. "The numbers could one day be where we have more females than males. It's really based on the caliber of athlete, as far as qualifying for this program and applying for the program, and also being an outstanding Soldier."
WCAP boxing head coach Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette welcomed the women to the "House of Pain," the nickname for the WCAP boxing facility at Fort Carson, Colorado.
"Being as it was a male-dominated sport, I never thought it would be balanced out like we are," Leverette said. "But it's a great crowd. We have a great group of Soldier-athletes here, both male and female. They push each other. And they care about each other, which is one of the biggest things."
Leverette said his boxers realize they are "Soldiers first," the working motto of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
"When you let them know that's the standard up front, then you really don't have to stress it as much," said Leverette, who boxed in the program before becoming a WCAP and U.S. Olympic boxing coach. "They are always conscious of who they are, what they represent, and how they go about representing that."