Justine Herrera has entered the New York Daily News Golden Gloves amateur tournament three times.
She could not make it through two rounds in 2005, losing to Jean Martin, the five-time defending champion. Two years ago, the Columbia University administration worker fared much better, advancing all the way to Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater, losing a close decision to Sascha MacKenzie.
Herrera, however, hopes to enjoy her return trip to MSG, Thursday, April 17 against Nisa Rodriguez in the 154-pound final.
The 30-year-old native Virginian has won three fights to become the borough’s lone female representative, following her second-round TKO of Jill Carrabus nearly two weeks ago at Queensborough Community College to reach the medal round.
“It’s great representing the bigger borough, and hopefully I’ll make everyone proud,” she said, adding, “I really want to win. This is the year I need to do it.”
With her eyes set on graduate school towards a degree in education at Columbia, Herrera said this would be her final Golden Gloves competition, no matter the result. She expects to be nervous the day of the fight, particularly when she arrives in midtown.
Herrera should be better prepared this time around. It has been two years, but she knows what to expect from herself in such a situation, and she has seen Rodriguez fight before. Rodriguez, a defending champion, will be a worthy adversary. She has height and reach advantages, though Herrera will look to use her speed and boxing savvy to offset those physical factors.
Herrera got involved in the sport three years ago when she met Melissa Hernandez, her trainer. Hernandez was competing in the Gloves and urged Herrera to try the sport. Eventually, she got the bug.
“I really enjoy the physicality of it,” she said. “When people meet me and find out, they’re like ‘no way you’re a boxer.’ It is the best stress reliever. I tell that to everyone. I try to recruit people to get into boxing. I tell them, ‘Put a glove on, hit a bag and you feel so much better.’ ”
“The physical part was difficult, but it was balancing everything - work, personal life, the Gloves,” she went on. “It really is like a three, four-month commitment. Weekends are for training, and even at night after work you have to get to the gym.”
Herrera did not last too long in her first Gloves - less than two rounds to be exact - losing to Martin. She was overwhelmed by the competition. The next year, she did much better, reaching the final. She could not remember much of the fight, particularly the fourth round. Exhausted, the final moments remain a blur of bright lights and screaming fans.
This year, Herrera is ready. She passed on it last year to take classes but has given the sport her all this spring.
“I’m confident,” she said. “The closer I get, the more I train, the better I’ll feel about it.”