Senior Rachel Salamone remembers when she was one of the last few people to finish workouts during her freshman year of Baraka Bouts.
“I didn’t think I had a great grasp on the workouts themselves and that it was a do-it-as-fast-as-you-can type of thing for some of them,” she says.
One of the captains took Salamone under her wing and would finish the workouts alongside her. Eventually, Salamone stuck around long enough to become president of the club for the 2022-23 year.
“I just kept coming and kept coming, and it was really fun to learn a new skill.”
Originally from Hebron, Conn., Salamone lives in Cavanaugh Hall and studies political science with minors in data science and cybersecurity. She says she originally heard of Baraka Bouts from a former high school classmate and then signed up for the club at the annual activities fair.
“I went to the Activities Fair and I saw them throwing mitts and I was like, ‘that is just the absolute coolest thing that I’ve seen in my life,’” she says.
This year’s bouts will be just Salamone’s second time competing in the ring. Bronchitis kept her out freshman year, and the pandemic disrupted her second year. Just earlier this season, Salamone suffered a concussion in sparring practice, but has been cleared to fight in the tournament.
“I’ve felt like I’m further back than I was when I got [the concussion],” she said. “But I’m excited.”
In the ring though, she is known as Rachel “Same Hat” Salamone, a reference dating back to her freshman year in the club.
“There is this little comic strip about these two guys wearing the same hat,” she said. “They just kind of point at each other. When I was a freshman, I met a senior who had very short hair and I also had at the time had really short hair. So I was like, oh, ‘same hat.’”
Reflecting on her first time fighting last season, Salamone says there’s nothing that can prepare you for the feeling of stepping in the ring the first time, saying it’s like a “dream.”
“You can’t not be nervous,” she added.
As president, Salamone holds a largely administrative role for the largest women’s club on campus — comprised of about 250 students — and ensures everything runs smoothly from 6 a.m. practices to the annual tournament.
Given that she was a junior captain last year, Salamone knew almost certainly she would be in a leadership role for the club this year. But, there are some elements that were hard to anticipate, including logistical elements of setting up rings and organizing announcers.
The club holds its new boxer orientation in August, with practices starting the first week of September, Salamone says. From there, members have about two months to learn combinations and prepare for the tournament. Before joining, most boxers, including Salamone, don’t have previous experience competing in the sport. And while the club has official coaches, this is where captains step up and teach younger boxers the skills they’ve learned over the years.
Even though not everyone participates in the bouts, Salamone says it’s rewarding as a leader to see members improve their strength and skillset over the season.
“I think so many of the girls have seen that difference where you just keep showing up and every day you get 1% better,” she said.
While it’s a club sport, the women of Baraka Bouts do more than just box. Each year, they fundraise for the Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda, and Saint Joseph’s Hill Secondary School in Kyarusozi, Uganda. The goal this year, Salamone says, is to raise $75,000 to build new student dormitories at St. Joseph’s Hill, where some students currently do not have private rooms.
Salamone explained that the fundraising mission of the club only enhances the reason to train and compete.
“Sure, it’s this huge athletic club, but there’s also this kind of fundraising and supporting human development and education and things like that around the world where it’s not just about you even though you’re working so much on yourself too,” Salamone said.
Looking ahead to after the end of her time in Baraka Bouts, Salamone says she’s already looked into boxing clubs in the city she’s living in after graduation. But for now, the upcoming tournament might be her last competition.
“I don’t think it would be something where I would want to keep sparring,” she said. “I think this is a good kind of end of the road in terms of sparring and competing.”
The Baraka Bouts quarterfinals will begin Monday night in Dahnke Ballroom at 7 p.m., with the semifinals and finals taking place on Nov. 10 and Nov. 16, respectively.
Contact Alysa Guffey at email@example.com.