I'd read about her before I got here. She was highlighted in a short piece in "Living Abroad in Costa Rica," a book I read cover to cover years ago. So, when another parent from school told me her daughter was going to go take gymnastics/boxing that afternoon from "Tiger Brenda" aka "La Tigress," I thought to myself, oh yea, Sadie is sooo there.
That afternoon I sat at a large wooden table in a ramshackle outdoor kitchen, catching glimpses through the trees of Sadie in a boxing ring in the forest, laughing her head off with an abandonment I hadn't yet heard here in Costa Rica. Behind me was a large open air gym with beautiful wooden floors, punching bags hanging from the steel ceiling crossbeams, boxing gloves hanging by pairs on a clothesline. As it started to rain, a small woman with tiger stripes tattooed down her arms and legs, emerged from the boxing ring and called out to me, "can you please take my laundry down from the line?" I immediately stood up and as I removed towels from lines hanging from trees, I looked around. To my right I could make out a couple of tiny cabins on stilts in and among the jungle. Here and there were a few other wooden buildings of unknown purpose. A bathroom? A sauna? A storage shed? To my left ran a small creek and I could see a few bridges along it, some of wood, some concrete. Painted signs hung on trees and pebble pathways traversed the property. Ramshackle but beautiful, hodgepodge but purposeful, and all clearly the result of someone's strong vision and years of hard work. I glanced at a white board hanging from a nail in a tree and read that there are classes for women held every day at 7:30 and 9:00 am. Oh yea, I am sooo there.
Brenda Burnside was a professional boxer based primarily in Las Vegas. Standing 5' 3" and weighing in at 118 at her heaviest, the bantomweight turned pro in 1997 at the unheard of age of 34 and by 2000 she was competing for the world championship. Her official stats at the end of her career were 7 wins, 11 losses and 2 draws, with 4 knockout wins. For each match she felt she won (even if the official decision was otherwise) she had a tiger stripe tattooed on her body.
In 1999 Brenda visited Nosara and happened to catch an enormous arribada (the mass turtle nesting, remember?). She went to sleep that night with visions of the turtles still in her head and dreamed of a turtle diving into a hole. She followed the turtle in the hole and encountered a sea of eyes of all different types of Costa Rican animals, all looking at her and beckoning. She woke up and knew she had to figure out a way to live here. During the remaining days of her vacation she bought a piece of property near the beach. As Brenda said, when the turtles tell you to stay, you stay.
Though retired from professional boxing, La Tigress knew she didn't want to give it up entirely. She began doing exhibition matches with local men during halftime at bullfights and, impressed, someone suggested she give lessons to the kids in Nosara at the local community center. The classes were a huge success and she then started building a gym on her land, followed by her regulation-size boxing ring, complete with set of small bleachers at one end.
Fast forward ten years and Brenda and her compound, the Enchanted Forest, is as much a part of Nosara as surfing and the beach. She teaches kids and adults and dreams of sending a Costa Rican to the Olympics now that women's boxing will finally be included in 2012. She is full of energy and focus and has managed, from a dream, to create a magical yet very tangible reality. The kind of place you wish you could come to every day. The kind of place that is both mysterious and welcoming, sort of like La Tigress herself.
In short, I'm hooked. Hooked, jabbed, and undercut. Yes, she works us hard. Yes, I literally almost threw up in the ring during my second class (yes, it was very embarassing, thank you), and yes, it is really really fun. I was her only 9 am student for the first two classes and though I loved having her to myself I quickly realized that if I could get more people to join me I would get a bit of relief and might not pass out. These days our class size ranges from 3 to 4 women, which is perfect. We lift weights, we use stretchy bands, we do sit ups and leg lifts and squats, we stretch, and then...we get to box. I've never in my life thought about boxing, never had the urge to check it out and see if I might like it. But here, in the jungle, in the Enchanted Forest, with Brenda and her beautiful wooden floor and her energy and her strength and her support, boxing is awesome. And it's not just because I get to wear pink boxing gloves (though I admit that is a perk).
Sadie and I are both hooked. In fact, I'm thinking I may go professional. 41 isn't too old, is it? Hmmm....maybe we should pin our hopes on Sadie instead. The 2024 Olympics, perhaps?