When she first walked into the World Class Boxing gym in Kingston, 5-foot, 7-inch Katie Stapleton weighed just 93 pounds.
She had just quit her job as a Children and Youth Services case-worker (“where they investigate the bad stuff,” she said), and spent a week wallowing in bed.
“She was very skinny, very small, very unhealthy,” said her coach, WCB head trainer Sean Diggs.
Stapleton was eating fast food every day, drinking four nights a week and feeling beaten down by a string of lousy boyfriends and ugly breakups.
Three years later, she said she’s training for her first fight as an amateur kickboxer and in a healthy relationship. The fight, scheduled July 26 at the Hamburg Field House, marks a milestone in the 30-year-old Dallas woman’s transition to a lifestyle that she said saved her life.
The turning point came, she said, when a friend asked what she’d rather her daughter Julie be talking about in 10 years. Would she prefer to be a mom who fell on hard times and quit, her friend asked, or a mom her daughter could be proud of?
Stapleton said she credits those words with helping pull her out of her rut, and still thinks about them when she makes decisions. But her transition to healthier living didn’t happen overnight, Stapleton said, and her reckless behavior created a rift with that friend. She called the falling out her biggest regret of that period.
Little by little, Stapleton said, she made incremental changes in the way she lived, a fashion she said is more conducive to long-term lifestyle modification.
“It becomes a habit,” she said, “instead of a chore.”
At first, Stapleton said, fighting wasn’t on her mind. Reaching a healthy weight took six months, and even then she said she had reservations about stepping into the ring. She didn’t like the idea of getting hurt, and she wasn’t huge on the thought of going toe-to-toe with a stranger.
But after watching Lauren Williams win an amateur kickboxing fight, Stapleton said she finally wanted in. She began training with Diggs in the basics of Muay Thai, and she and Williams soon became training partners.
“She’s very accurate,” she said pointing to a cluster of bruises on her leg leftover from a recent sparring session.
Williams, 25, Nanticoke, has been kickboxing for five years and had four amateur fights, winning three. She plans to be on the same card as her training partner on July 26, but said she hasn’t yet found an opponent.
Not many women participate in the sport, she said, which makes it difficult. Williams said she was glad to finally have a woman to train with when she met Stapleton.
“Girls fight differently than guys,” she said. “Girls are really cutthroat. When we fight we’re trying to kill each other.”
And just as her training partner said taking up kickboxing helped her through a difficult period of her life, Williams said the sport has been cathartic for her as well.
After her brother, prison guard Eric Williams, was killed on duty by an inmate, she said the ring became a place for her to forget things for a little while.
“This was definitely my number one outlet for dealing with that — 100 percent,” Williams said.
Stapleton said she hopes her story can serve as an example to younger women going through some of the same things she did. Women, herself included, so often chase nothing but relationships, she said, and fail to work on developing their own interests.
“It doesn’t have to be fighting,” she said, “but just find something for yourself.”
Still Stapleton, Williams and Diggs said they would love to see more women getting into the sport. The three agreed the experience is as empowering as it can be addicting and builds tremendous amounts confidence.
And the learning never ends, Diggs added. Though he said he has coached more than 20 champion fighters in boxing and mixed martial arts, he still has many coaches of his own and is always absorbing new knowledge.
“It’s an ongoing process. You always want to be a student in martial arts,” Diggs said.
Stapleton said winning her fight at the end of the month can prove a crucial boost in breaking into a career as a personal trainer when she moves to Denver, Colorado, shortly after the match.
And because of her training, Stapleton said she’s not worried about getting hurt.
Of course, the prospect of injury always exists. Everyone knows that getting hit doesn’t feel good, and though Diggs maintains that defense is more important than offense, he said he doesn’t teach his fighters to take a punch.
“That’s ridiculous.” he said. “It’s more important to know how to evade.”