Crystal Hoy’s life changed course one day in 1998 while talking sports with a man whose name and face she cannot recollect.
Hoy, then 17, talked about how she missed sports after running track and playing basketball, and even football for a year while at Heights. The man asked her if she had ever considered boxing.
“I thought about it, and I’d always loved boxing,” said Hoy, now 32 and living in Las Vegas. “I was a Mike Tyson fan growing up. So this guy said, ‘if you’re interested, I’ll take you to my friend’s house. He teaches boxing.’ It was about five, six blocks from where I lived, so I went over there and I tried it out, and I was hooked.”
Hoy (5-5-3) will fight Nydia Feliciano for a bantamweight (118 pounds) Women’s International Boxing Association title on Saturday at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen, N.J.
Hoy, who earned her GED after dropping out at Heights, immersed herself in the sport. She fought in amateur fights and trained as much as possible. When she realized how difficult it was to find fights in the Wichita area, she moved to Vegas in the summer of 2001.
“I put in quite a bit of training, and I felt I was good enough to handle it at a professional level,” said Hoy, who is 5-foot-6.
Roger Mayweather started training her and, after she turned pro in 2002, she promptly won her first three fights, two by knockout.
“They were grooming me and getting me the experience I needed,” Hoy said.
She proved to be a versatile fighter, with the ability to slug, box, adjust.
“The biggest thing that I love about boxing is the challenge to get better,” Hoy said. “I always want to learn more, get better technically. I’m a much better fighter at 32 then I was at 22.
“Every fighter has weaknesses and strengths. But I have a lot of heart, and that’s something you can’t teach.”
After about six months of professional boxing, Hoy’s career took a surprising and unfortunate turn.
In early 2003, before her fourth fight, Hoy failed a mandatory and extensive medical test when an opthamologist discovered she had retinal holes. As a result, she was not allowed to fight.
Hoy had surgery to repair the retinal holes in Wichita, but she continued to fail subsequent tests.
She didn’t give up boxing, though, sometimes fighting in places that didn’t have such extensive medical tests, all while trying to find a a doctor who would clear her to compete.
“I was taking minimum wage jobs, security jobs, landscaping jobs in order to make it,” Hoy said. “I would train here and there, but then I would stop. I was very frustrated. It was very draining to me to train and spend so much to try to fight and not be able to do it.
“I was at the end of my rope. I told myself, ‘I’m going to hang my gloves up. I don’t think there’s another chance.’”
In 2010, a doctor cleared Hoy to return to boxing.
“She completely changed and devoted herself to the sport,” said Tiffany Overholts, Hoy’s girlfriend of five years. “… She’s so much happier. Even if she doesn’t physically box herself, the sport itself is what she wants to do as a career. After she retires as a boxer, she wants to be a boxing coach and a trainer.
“She’s so into boxing. This is her life, her passion.”
There is an advantage to those missed years. Hoy’s body hasn’t taken abuse that others have at her age, and yet she has experience from all the training.
“I feel good physically,” she said. “I spar with a lot of younger guys in the gym, and I hang in there.”
Hoy also has the correct mindset.
“I have a few losses on my record. (The record) doesn’t show exactly my talent,” she said. “I gave up some fights because mentally I gave them up before I got in the ring. I was half-hearted about the situation.
“I wanted to win, but I had my doubts, and I let them take over me and I couldn’t focus. I’ve put all that to the side this time around. I’m focused. I’m doing whatever I have to do.”
Overholts notes that Hoy’s diet has improved — she only eats fruit, vegetables, chicken and ground turkey.
Hoy’s workout has undergone an overhaul, as well.
She goes to the gym for about two hours every morning, sparring, hitting with a coach, heavy-bag training. She rests at home for a bit, then does body weight exercises, such as squats and pull-ups. In the evening, after the sun sets, she runs 3 to 6 miles.
She wants this world title. Badly.
“I want to go in there and give 100 percent,” Hoy said. “When I leave the ring, I want to leave knowing I gave everything I had.”