CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Army News Service, Feb. 26, 2008) - National Guard Sgt. Cherri Retamozzo returned from a four-year hiatus from the ring to win two bouts in the 2008 Armed Forces Boxing Championships Feb. 5-7 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.

On the eve of her 26th birthday, Retamozzo won a 34-11 decision against Navy's Sonia Deputee of Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, Calif.

"In the first round, I felt her out a little bit," said Retamozzo, an all-around athlete from Long Island, N.Y., who is stationed on Staten Island. "In the second round, I tried to change up a lot by going to the body and changing up combinations. Third and fourth rounds, coach told me just to try new stuff because I was up by so many points."

Earlier in the week, Retamozzo won a 25-12 decision over Navy's Jessie Owens of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in Norfolk, Va. On finals night, Owens won a crowd-rousing, 40-22 decision over Airman 1st Class Crystal Wortman of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

Because none of the services fielded a full women's team, the female bouts were randomly selected and no team score was kept. Therefore, based on the unscientific who-beat-who process of elimination, Retamozzo had reason to claim the 2008 Armed Forces Boxing women's crown.

"I know everybody boxes everybody differently," Retamozzo said. "But it still makes me feel good to know that I beat the champ who beat the defending champ."

While stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2002-03, Retamozzo won back-to-back tournaments at the 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Week, an annual celebration of sports and recreation.

"Somebody just signed me up to box as a joke, actually," Retamozzo said. "I did it anyway, and I won. I had never even thought about boxing before in my life, but I won, so of course I enjoyed it.

"I tried it again the next year, and I won again. After that, it was all downhill."

Next thing she knew, Retamozzo was boxing at the 2003 All-Army Trial Camp. That year, she lost her only bout at the Armed Forces Championships in Camp Lejeune.

"Back then, I didn't really know how to box," she said. "I just kind of threw myself in there. I didn't have any strategy. My first year at Army camp, coach Basheer Abdullah said: 'You have no defense. Your offense is your defense.'

"Now I know what I'm doing. I know how to box, per se. I know how to hit and not get hit. Tonight, coach told me to just try some new stuff and see if it works.

"It worked."

It took five years, however, for Retamozzo to work her way back to the Armed Forces Boxing Championships. She had swapped boxing gloves and headgear for maternity clothes and baby gear.

"I stopped boxing, got pregnant, had a baby, got married, and all that stuff," Retamozzo said.

After a two year layoff from athletic training, Retamozzo resumed her workouts and climbed back into the ring shortly after her son Gabriel's second birthday.

"I guess I never wanted to stop in the first place, but I started being a mom for a little bit," she recalled. "But I just couldn't stay away. I never wanted to stop, but I guess when I was pregnant, I had to. Now my son is proud of me. I talk to him every time before I get in the ring."

Although Retamozzo quickly succeeded in the ring, she says female boxers face an uphill climb in the sport.

"I want to go as far as I can as an amateur," said Retamozzo, who hopes to see women's boxing added to the Olympics in time for the 2012 London Games, the last year she will be eligible to compete based on current age restrictions for Olympic boxers.

All-Army coach Basheer Abdullah gave Retamozzo his team gold medal after the All-Army boxers secured their 17th consecutive Armed Forces title.

"She's part of this team," Abdullah said. "She contributes to our success not only inside the ring but outside of the ring. She's a motivator. She carried herself like an ambassador just like these men did. She did everything we asked her to do and made those sacrifices like they did."

Retamozzo returned to Fort Carson, Colo., with the All-Army team to train for the U.S. National Championships, scheduled for March 9-14 in Colorado Springs. If she reaches the 125-pound finale at Nationals, Retamozzo will advance to international competition.

"I went to Nationals last year and lost in the semifinals," she said. "I want to win it this year."

Retamozzo's long-range goal is to compete in the Olympics, which does not yet offer boxing for women.

"That's every female boxer's ultimate dream," she said. "But I'm 26 years old and I've got until I'm 32 - in 2012. I don't know if I can hold on that long.

"Ever since I started, this has been like my whole entire life. I leave my son for these three months to just come here and train, so of course it's very important to me.

"Just going to the Olympics and going down in history, that would be amazing," Retamozzo concluded. "The (female) wrestlers are in the Olympics - why not us'"

(Tim Hipps writes for the Family and MWR Command Public Affairs Office.)