Alicia Ashley World-champion paralegal says dedication key to success

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<<>>It was her first professional boxing career knockout, and they were the headliners on an all-women boxing card. But Ashley was back at work Monday morning after an early-morning workout with her famous trainer, Hector Roca (recently in the news for training Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby).

A former professional dancer—Ashley, 37—had worked in law departments throughout her career, and she became a paralegal around 2001. With a degree in computer systems, Ashley had been working in technical support in law departments. Her first job in high school had been with a law firm, and it started a trend.

When she was laid off by Prudential in 2000 during large cutbacks, she decided it was time for a major change. She decided to start taking her boxing hobby more seriously and turn pro.

Women boxers have come a long way since Ashley started boxing 10 years ago. While still an amateur, she said it was hard to find other women to fight. Now the sport—amateur and pro—is being revitalized, largely because of women boxers.

Do boxing and corporate litigation have anything in common? Ashley laughs and says, "No. Yes. No. Yes."

"Well, you can always find comparisons," she said. "Because the one thing is how I train, I would say how dedicated I am to doing things, you would see that also when I work. It's discipline," she said. "If I work and I'm not going to put my all in my job, then there's no way I'm going to put my all in boxing. So in that aspect, I would say it's more of personality than to the similarities of the job. Because the kind of dedication I put into boxing I used when I was a computer technician, I used when I was a dancer, so I think it's more personality and the work ethic."

The work ethic has paid off. Ashley's boss at Simon & Cromwell was supportive when she asked for flexible hours so she could train for the Laughlin fight. She needed extra training to prepare and started work at 11:00 a.m. instead of 9:30 a.m.

"They knew what kind of worker I was, so they were actually willing to let me" work flexible hours, she said, adding that she always worked at least an 8-hour day, she just stayed later.

Ashley, who moved to the United States from Jamaica when she was 11, lives in Long Island and trains at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn. She leaves her house each morning around 6:00 to get to Gleason's by 7:00.

It was her brother who got her interested in boxing, one of many sports practiced in her competitive family. Her father was a choreographer; her brother, a champion kickboxer. Another brother is a chess grandmaster. When asked if she and her kickboxing brother ever beat up on the chess-playing brother, Ashley laughs and says, "No."

Ashley has also competed in kickboxing. When a knee injury ended her professional dancing career, her brother suggested she take up kickboxing to stay fit. While boxing and kickboxing seem equally damaging to your knees, Ashley said as a professional dancer, she was dancing 8 hours a day at least. As a boxer, she only trains for a few hours each day.

The knockout upset over Elena Reid was Ashley's 17th professional fight, and she's now 11-5-1 (1 KO). After a year of training, she won the world championship. But she was broke and wanted a new, more flexible career. She started temping. Her experience in law firms helped her learn the paralegal trade. She learned on the job, boxing before and after work.

"When I first entered [boxing], especially as an amateur, I fought like once every year," she said. "By the time I turned professional, they started to add a lot more amateur competitions. There're quite a few amateur competitions now."

Ashley said she tries to keep her law firm and boxing lives separate, but they inevitably intersect. Her colleagues surprised her with a party after her most recent victory and like to go see her fight. She says she never comes to work with black eyes on Monday mornings.

"My nickname is Slick, I don't get hit," she said.

Unlike many women boxers, Ashley said she never had a problem with chauvinism at the gym.

"The one thing I do remember—and this still happens—is that guys go, 'Oh, you're so pretty. Why would you want to do that, get your pretty face busted up?'" she said. TV networks used to show women "foxy boxing" as a sideshow to the main event, she said. But women are increasingly becoming the main event.

Ashley's boxing has lead to stunt work and boxing parts in movies. Aside from Hilary Swank, she has sparred with Michelle Rodriguez, the star of 2000 film Girlfight. When they needed an extra boxer in the movie, they called Ashley. Next, she will fight on-screen in Strangers with Candy, a Comedy Central show being turned into a feature film.

"I got to spar with Michelle Rodriguez a lot, and when they needed someone to fight, she suggested me, and I ended up being in the movie," she said. "That actually parlayed into a lot of stunt roles for me. I love doing stunt work. It's a lot of fun. It's fighting."

Ashley says she plans to stick with both her paralegal and boxing careers for as long as possible.

"But boxing is a young person's sport," she said. "A lot of people are shocked by my age, because I don't look it, I look like I'm in my 20s. But it's not about looks. It's about how much your body can hold up, and I'm hoping for at least five more years of this sport."

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