Chelsey Ramos was all but born to fight.
On her second birthday, she signed up for tae kwon do in Los Angeles. At four, she began entering tournaments. Then 39 pounds, she’d battle in her own age and weight division before moving up for more chances to compete. That same year, still in nursery school, she took the silver medal in the California Junior Olympics, though you were supposed to be five just to enter and the class included kids who outweighed her by 16 pounds.
When her family began splitting time between Miami and New York, Ramos couldn’t find a dojo she liked, so she took up boxing. Today, she remains an obsessive athlete, dragging her father out of bed for pre-dawn practices. People are accustomed to that kind of thing from skaters who want to follow Sarah Hughes to greatness. But when Ramos hauls her father from his sleep, she makes him climb into the ring with her and box a full 10 rounds. Many a morning, the two have fought while the sun came up over Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
The 10-year-old is still waiting for her first real fight—she had one lined up in October, but her opponent bagged—so the sparring sessions will have to do for now. “I feel determined,” she says, of her approach to training. “I just try to imagine how it would feel to try my best and stuff. I try to have the feeling of how it would be to win.”
There are no kids at her Miami gym, but her father says that’s no obstacle to her preparation for the day she’ll have her first match.
“In the ring, she’s fearless,” says Tracy Ramos. “If she gets in the ring with a boy, psychologically she thinks she’s going to kill him.”
Now a lithe 60-pounder, she claims she rarely thinks about the person she’s hitting, though she has experienced for herself the joys of having her own nose walloped. When sparring, she just starts in with the combinations she knows, then looks for chances to mix the pattern up. If it’s going well, she says, the action flies. If she’s flagging, she makes herself hang in there, forcing her arms up and pacing herself through the misery. As for her opponents, well, they should learn to duck as ably as she can. “I know that it must hurt a little bit, but all I do is try my best,” she says. “I think of it like a punching bag.”