Stephanie Grant poses for a photo after being named the Next Olympic Hopeful for the sport of boxing on July 30, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Stephanie Grant’s father chuckled the first time she asked him if she could take martial arts lessons.
Not only had the 7-year-old fallen in love with the movie “Mulan,” but she’d also heard her dad’s stories about being in the Navy and competing in Muay Thai, and she wanted to be a fighter, too.
“He laughed at me at first because when I would go outside and I got a cut or a bruise I was a little sensitive, and so I’d start crying,” Grant said. “He was like, ‘Why would I let you do a physical sport like that?’ But after asking again he was like, ‘Fine, we’ll try you out. If you can last a week we’ll sign you up.’”
Grant quickly found out that taking a punch was much different than getting a scrape, and she loved it.
“I fell in love instantly,” she said. “My first fight I did get knocked down, but something clicked; this fire just fueled inside of me.”
After many years in martial arts, track and field and other sports, Grant now has the opportunity to train with the U.S. boxing team after winning a spot via “Milk Life presents, Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful.” One of eight winners this year, the 24-year-old from Bellflower, California, is now one step closer to realizing a lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian.
Grant’s road to winning season two had its share of twists.
She competed in Muay Thai until 2011, when her father passed away. After that, she said, she had a mental block because the sport and her father were so intertwined in her life. She continued her athletic career in other sports, however, becoming the first female varsity wrestler at her high school, and also running track. Her track career ended in college with a knee injury, but she soon began lifting weights. In 2017, her “gym dad” at her home 24 Hour Fitness encouraged her to try out for Season 1 of “Next Olympic Hopeful.” She pulled her hamstring during the competition, but this year’s camp had a much different ending.
Since winning the boxing spot at the show’s taping this past summer in Colorado, Grant has been training with coach Carlos Rodriguez at California’s Jerry Ortiz Memorial Boxing and Youth Fitness Gym, the same place where 2018 youth world champion and Youth Olympic medalist Heaven Garcia trains, and has even had her first fight.
“My first bout I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’d never been in a boxing match. I was used to MMA and being able to kick. It was a great match, and I thank the girl I was able to have the bout with because she taught me a lot. I left that match with more knowledge than I could have expected, and that’s all I really wanted was to have a checklist where I could say, ‘I did OK here, but I need to focus on these things to get better.’”
Some of the movements are the same as what she did in Muay Thai, Grant said, but she tends to stand more upright instead of in a firm squared-off position. She also still struggles to keep her feet on the ground when it seems natural to kick.
But she’s learning.
Stephanie Grant trains for boxing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Shortly after her first bout Grant attended a USA Boxing women’s elite camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she was able to soak in all the knowledge and experience of the athletes around her.
“When I first arrived I was really nervous because I didn’t really want to tell people I won Next Olympic Hopeful,” she said. “I was kind of keeping that to myself a little bit. I didn’t want people to think they trained their whole lives to get to this point, and here I am just kind of walking in and not at their skill level yet, so I was really nervous and felt like maybe I was going to be judged or looked down on. But a few athletes were like, ‘Hey, this is Steph, she won Next Olympic Hopeful.’ I was really surprised how they treated me. They were so loving and caring and made me feel like I was one of their own.”
Grant still works full-time as a veterinary technician, a field she entered because she said she was always the kid who wanted to help every stray she saw. She enjoys being a voice for animals and helping people to keep their pets healthy and happy for as long as possible. She then trains at the gym, lifts weights and runs, although she hopes to one day soon get the backing to be able to train full-time.
Fighting at 57 kg., she’s currently training for USA Boxing’s Western Qualifiers in March.
“Each day training is getting a little easier, I’m understanding more and it’s feeling a little more natural,” she said. “What I’m really understanding is boxing is 90 percent mental, and that aspect I’ve really been overcoming because it’s not just you in the ring, it’s your whole life. You walk in the gym with the world on your shoulders, everything you went through that day, and you release it right there and can’t let anything else bother you. It’s a great feeling to take that weight off.”