New Mexico boxer fights hometown despair

Fast-punching, motorcycle-riding, role-modeling Michelle Lovato is Broadsheet's girl crush of the day.

Published January 18, 2006 3:49PM (EST)

Broadsheet's girl crush of the day: Española, New Mexico, boxing sensation Monica Lovato. From today's New York Times: "[Laborious boxing movie references redacted] Monica Lovato, a slip of a super flyweight boxer at 5-foot-5 and 115 pounds, is carrying the hopes of her drug-ravaged hometown on her narrow shoulders ... Ms. Lovato, 28, who has fought her way out of a tormented family history to a 4-1 record and has been known to relax by jumping out of airplanes, is as much a champion as Españolans have cheered in some time."

The Times describes Española as "a way station on a major Mexican heroin route, where officials say drug abuse is so ingrained that grandparents teach parents and parents teach children to do drugs, where state troopers carry the opiate antidote Narcan to revive addicts who overdose, and where a Rio Arriba County commissioner once protested a crackdown saying, 'We're not going to declare war on our own relatives.'" It is one of the poorest areas in the nation.

Not surprisingly, Lovato is a source of much-needed hometown pride. "The whole town turned out at the Ohkay Indian casino here in June for Ms. Lovato's last fight: scowling drug dealers, entire families with babies, wizened Indian women and the local state senator, many decked out in Monica Lovato portrait T-shirts and screaming wildly," says the Times. Lovato won the bout in 48 seconds.

And, as the 1 billion forthcoming sports-cliché-laden profiles of Lovato will no doubt note, it's not just her left hook that gives her town hope. Lovato spends her time -- between training sessions, community college courses and work at a dialysis center -- "talking to young people and raising money for sports programs to compete with the lure of drugs." Lovato has lost several family members and countless friends to drugs and drug-related problems. She took up boxing after a boyfriend died in car accident on his way home from rehab.

"'My goal is to bring positive things out here,' she said over lunch at El Paragua, under a framed photo of a local girl killed in a drunken-driving crash and across the street from where another young woman who had been fatally stabbed was found in a trash container. 'Kids want to play ball, but their parents are too busy getting high.' Jose Attencio, owner of El Paragua, where Ms. Lovato once worked as a waitress, called her a role model. 'There's champions cruising up and down the street,' Mr. Attencio said. 'We just have to find them.'"

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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