From pitches to punches

Late-bloom­ing boxer Drys­dale uses ath­letic col­lege back­ground to her ad­van­tage

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT RADLEY The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor

As she was de­cid­ing whether to launch her­self into this new sport, the check­list of ques­tions that might’ve helped de­ter­mine if she’d be any good at it con­tained some ob­vi­ous holes. Had she ever been in a fight? “Never,” she says. Had she ever been punched in the face? “Never.” Had she ever hit any­one else? “Never.” So it’s fair to say Micayla Drys­dale wasn’t ex­actly the kind of per­son you’d ex­pect to walk through the door of a Hamil­ton box­ing gym on a chilly Novem­ber day look­ing to start a box­ing ca­reer. Mike Tyson she wasn’t. The one thing she had go­ing for her was an abun­dance of ath­leti­cism.

By the time the St. Mary’s Catholic Sec­ondary grad had fin­ished univer­sity five years ago, she’d had the kind of bas­ket­ball ca­reer against which fu­ture play­ers are mea­sured. While on schol­ar­ship at Cani­sius Col­lege in Buf­falo, she’d been team cap­tain twice. She’d played more games than any­one else, was a pro­lific three-point shooter with the sec­ond-high­est ac­cu­racy from dis­tance in school his­tory, and was named to the al­la­ca­demic team three times. Dur­ing one stretch in her se­nior sea­son, she even drained 23 con­sec­u­tive free throws.

“I had a pretty de­cent ca­reer there,” the 27-year-old says, un­der­stat­ing the case. “It was fun.”

But bas­ket­ball doesn’t last for­ever. Not at that level, any­way. So when she grad­u­ated, she went look­ing for some­thing else to scratch her com­pet­i­tive itch. That’s when soccer called.

She’d played the game grow­ing up. In fact, she’d been a star there, too. As a re­sult, it wasn’t much of a tran­si­tion get­ting back to it and play­ing cen­tre mid­field for Hamil­ton Sparta in the high-level On­tario Women’s Soccer League. Which would’ve been the lat­est chap­ter of her sport­ing story if not for that scrim­mage last April.

With no­body around her, she piv­oted one way and her leg went the other.

“My whole knee just kind of blew out,” she says.

By the time she got to the hospi­tal, she learned she’d torn her menis­cus, shred­ded her ACL, sus­tained first-de­gree sprains of her MCL and LCL, and frac­tured both her tibia and fibula. The con­tents of her leg were es­sen­tially the anatom­i­cal equiv­a­lent of beef stew.

Eight in­ac­tive months and a ma­jor surgery later, she started go­ing to the gym to work her way back into shape. That’s where she was spot­ted by Kylie An­gel.

The com­pet­i­tive boxer — she’s been a win­ner of the On­tario ama­teur cham­pi­onship — who also hap­pens to be a coach, no­ticed Drys­dale hob­bling around. De­spite the limp­ing, she thought this new­comer looked like an ath­lete. So she asked her if she’d like to give box­ing a try.

Some­how this in­vi­ta­tion sounded good de­spite the fact that her sport­ing past in­volved noth­ing that in­volved any form of com­bat or even hard-hit­ting col­li­sions.

“I was miss­ing that com­pet­i­tive rush,” Drys­dale says. “Get­ting that ag­gres­sion out.”

So she showed up at Steel­town Box­ing Club and started learn­ing how to fight. First with no op­po­nent. Then a cou­ple months into train­ing, she de­cided to make the leap and step into the ring to spar.

Ev­ery new fighter is anx­ious about get­ting hit for the first time. It’s un­ques­tion­ably scary. She was no dif­fer­ent. Yet when that ini­tial blow landed, she was shocked it didn’t hurt. The first one she de­liv­ered, on the other hand, did have an im­pact. Not on her. On the other wo­man. A stiff, straight right blasted her op­po­nent on the fore­head and stunned her.

It was an eye-opener. She might be pretty good at this. When the ses­sion was over, Drys­dale couldn’t wait to get back in there and do it again. A pas­sion had been born. One she de­scribes as em­pow­er­ing and ex­cit­ing.

“I couldn’t stop smil­ing,” she says. “I’m a lit­tle odd in that sense.”

A few months on, af­ter an­other ses­sion, her coach pulled her aside and men­tioned that a spot had opened on a fight card in May. An­gel told her she’d caught on quickly and was ready to take the next step. If she wanted to train for that, she’d help get her ready.

The sup­ply teacher by day sat down with her par­ents — both who’d had some reser­va­tions about her get­ting into box­ing in the first place, mom more than dad — and asked what they thought. Both said she shouldn’t do it.

“So I spoke to Kylie and said, ‘We’re good to go,’” she laughs.

Sadly, the fight fell apart. But it’s just a mat­ter of time. She and her re­built knee and her newly chis­eled body will be in a ring with a real op­po­nent in a real fight, soon.

Based on her past track record of success in sports, it’ll be dif­fi­cult not to like her chances of fin­ish­ing that night — when­ever that is — with her arm raised.

I was miss­ing that com­pet­i­tive rush. Get­ting that ag­gres­sion out.

Micayla Drys­dale, right, hits the pads with trainer Kylie An­gel. Drys­dale is a for­mer univer­sity bas­ket­ball star-turned-soccer player-turned-boxer.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Micayla Drys­dale is a late-bloom­ing boxer. She was afraid to get her first punch but was sur­prised it didn’t hurt.

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