Lead with ‘Knuckles’: Baraka Bouts president prepares for final tournament
Jake Miller | Monday, November 6, 2023
For many Notre Dame students, when they hear about Baraka Bouts, they immediately think about boxing. Of course, boxing is at the center of the club, but for many involved, including current president Nicole Lies, Baraka Bouts means much more.
“I’ve made a lot of my best friends and best memories in Baraka Bouts and coming to practice is pretty much always the best part of my day,” Lies said.
Serving as the club’s social media captain in 2022, Lies found a place to showcase her creativity.
“I found it really rewarding to have kind of that outreach that resulted in a lot of fundraising and a lot of better engagement and participation,” she said.
Originally from Naperville, Illinois, Lies is now an off-campus senior studying chemical engineering. She originally heard about Baraka Bouts from her sister, who participated in the club and graduated in 2020. But as a higher schooler and prospective student, it wasn’t something she saw herself doing.
“I went to the tournament one year and watched her compete. I never could see myself doing it because boxing is such a daunting thing, a daunting sport,” Lies said.
With time, though, Lies warmed up to the idea, especially considering some of the campus life restrictions in place during her freshman year (2020).
“Because of COVID, there really weren’t that many clubs, sports that were actually practicing. There weren’t that many activities that were meeting in person, and I had a couple of friends who were joining the boxing club. I’ve always been into fitness, so I just decided to try it but, immediately, I really liked it,” she said.
Lies continued to participate in the club through her sophomore and junior years. She quickly stood out as an excellent athlete who learned in a flash. Last year, she lost in the finals of her bracket. The year before, she lost in the finals. This year, her goal is to make it one further step and win her bracket.
“I think it would be a great progression to be able to be a champion this year, especially because it’s my last chance,” Lies said.
When asked about her development and rise to one of the club’s top boxers, Lies thanked her teammates and coaches, giving them all the credit. She said that one of the most helpful things her peers did for her was give her a nickname: (Nicole) Knuckles.
“In boxing, it’s super important that you punch with knuckles as opposed to any other part of your hand. So that’s something that helps remind me to have good form when I punch,” she said.
While Lies is excited for her time in the ring, her ultimate goal is the success of the tournament and the personal development of younger boxers. As president, Lies’ role is largely administrative, ensuring that everything runs according to plan. Given the size and scope of the club and tournament, she has her hands full. Baraka Bouts, the name for Notre Dame Women’s Boxing Club, is the largest women’s club on campus. However, even amid administrative business, Lies finds time to lead workouts and meet younger boxers.
“I’m at practice every day. I’m in the corner when girls are sparring. A couple of times a week, I’m the one up at the front leading practice and leading workouts,” she said.
At the same time, Lies believes that the role goes beyond serving as a head coach. She stressed the importance of getting to know members.
“For me, being the president is trying to learn as many people’s names and certain things about them, like their dorm or their major, just to have that connection and to make sure that we are building that community,” she said.
While the tournament is fun to watch and rewarding for those who put their heart and soul into practice, the organization has a broader focus. The club was founded in 1997. Since 2002, the annual tournament has raised funds for the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa. Tickets cost $25, with the proceeds going to help the Holy Cross Mission Center’s efforts to assist some of the poorest people in the world. For Lies, one of her favorite experiences as a member of the group has been seeing the club’s impact.
“Each year, we receive hundreds of letters from the students at the schools that wrote to us to thank us. Pictures and words on a screen only mean so much, but when you actually get to hear about the impact that it has on people’s lives from those people themselves, it’s really rewarding and inspiring,” she said.
As the tournament’s start draws near, Lies wants all of her members to take in the experience, even if their performance falls short of expectations.
“I just want every single girl who participates to have a great experience and be really glad they did it, whether they win or lose,” Lies said. “It is a once in a lifetime thing to box in front of that many people.”
The Baraka Bouts quarterfinals will begin Monday night in Dahnke Ballroom at 7 p.m. The semifinals will take place Thursday and finals on Nov. 15 in Dahnke Ballroom.