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Trying to shatter the glass ceiling, with their fists

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“Just like the boys,” as the saying goes, they put in hours of grueling work, absorb punches, and spit blood in buckets.

Yet women amateur boxers do not get nearly the funding of their male counterparts.

The boxers of Team Freeform, a group of 25 amateur women boxers who train at Brooklyn’s world-famous Gleason’s Gym (77 Front Street), are victims of this discrepancy.

The team boasts three of the very best boxers in the nation: Keisher “Fire” McLeod-Wells, Diana Casado, and Cara Castronova, have each taken home National Golden Gloves titles.

All three have once again qualified for the National Golden Gloves tournament this July in Hollywood, Florida.

If, as expected, they make good showings, their rankings will go up, pushing each toward her goal of becoming professional.

But how they will pay for their travel, lodging, and food – which cost about $1,000 per person – remains an open question.

USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic and amateur boxing, funds this tournament for men but not women.

“It’s a struggle for girls to get any funding – the girls are always playing catch-up,” said Team Freeform’s coach, Lee Shabaka.

“We’re always getting excuses about why women don’t get the funding, but when it comes down to it, it’s sexism,” he said.

Boxing has rapidly caught on with American women since the Golden Gloves hosted its first female tournament in 1996. It has become so popular that USA Boxing has lobbied to make it an Olympic sport.

“America has a very strong women’s boxing team, so they [USA boxing] want to bring home gold medals,” Shabaka said.

But international support has been lukewarm. Six months ago, word came down that women’s boxing would not be included in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Until it becomes an Olympic sport, women’s boxing will struggle for funding, Shabaka thinks.

“Everyone knows that when you’re an Olympic sport, you get mad funding. But until we are, it’s always going to be tough,” he said.

To pay for McLeod-Wells, Casado, and Castronova, Team Freeform will host a fundraiser on June 14 at Gleason’s Gym.

The event will run from 6 to 11 p.m. At $20 a head, it will feature an open bar and free food, as well as a live boxing exhibition by Team Freeform.

Boxing legends Emile Griffith, Iran Barklay and Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi will be on hand to lend their support as well.

Gleason’s Gym is stepped in history: Fighters like Jake LaMotta, Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, and a loquacious kid from Louisville named Cassius Clay all trained there at once point in their careers.

Now it is home to a new generation ready and willing to add to the gym’s legacy.

McLeod-Wells, for instance, is ranked number 2 in the whole country for amateurs in her weight class. A 30-year-old Bushwick resident, she works at Gleason’s and models on the side. But her goal is to go pro as a boxer.

“When you’re an amateur, you want to go pro. But you can’t go pro unless you compete in these tournaments,” she said.


The Team Freeform 1st Annual Fundraiser will take place from 6 to 11 p.m. on June 14 at Gleason’s Gym (77 Front Street). Admission is $20 per person. For more information, call 718-797-2872.

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