Marni O’Shea’s first amateur fight – in Berwick, Pennsylvania, in May of last year – was no cakewalk. After just six months of training, she nonetheless wound up with a split decision. Not bad when you consider the nerves that added to her exhaustion.
“I’d never been in a spot before where someone was trying to hit me in the face,” she says.
But that didn’t dissuade the Danbury resident, who grew up in White Plains. “I’m a firm believer in following your dreams, no matter the adversity.”
Since then O’Shea has compiled a record of nine wins and six losses in 15 bouts sanctioned by USA Boxing, the national governing body for Olympic-style amateur boxing, overseen by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Boxing Association. At press time, she was scheduled to participate in Christy Martin’s Title Invitational in Lillington, North Carolina, July 18 through 20. That’s provided she makes her weight goal, 125 pounds. At 5 feet, 3 inches and 141 well-muscled pounds when she started — which she whittled down to 132 — O’Shea has had to fight women who are taller than she is, with greater reach in punching and jabbing. Dropping down to 125 pounds means that she will be able to fight women who are similar in height and reach.
After the invitational — named for America’s most successful female boxer, now a fight promoter — O’Shea’s next big event will be the Eastern Elite Qualifier in Columbus, Ohio (Oct. 5-12), in which she lost last year. Then it will be time to consider if she stays with her amateur status — in the hopes of making the Olympic team and going to the Tokyo Summer Games next year — or turns pro.
“That is something we’re still discussing,” she says of her conversations with coach Frankie Cianciotto. “If I make it, great. But I’ll have to train hard to make the USA team.”
Those who know O’Shea even casually are not surprised to see her succeed in what has traditionally been a man’s world. She grew up playing basketball, volleyball and soccer in a sports- and music-loving family, one of four siblings who include Lisa, a White Plains police officer; Michael, who works with sound systems; and Lucas, who helps special needs children and serves as one of Marni’s coaches. Their mother, Helen, is a teacher at Scarsdale’s Hitchcock School for 1 to 4 year olds. Their father, Michael, is a retired electrician studying martial arts.
O’Shea was playing running back and cornerback for the Western Connecticut Hawks, a women’s semipro tackle football team based in Danbury, when Cianciotto discovered her at SET Fitness Gym (which stands for Studio for Extraordinary Training). She says she remembers him telling her that she could make it either as a boxer or a body builder. She thought then, please don’t let it be boxing.
And yet, that sport ultimately seemed to fit better, she says. She liked the challenge — particularly from those who said girls shouldn’t be football players or boxers — and took to the training, which includes six days of cardio, hitting the bag, sparring, lots of arm movements and weightlifting. The last is a particular favorite, O’Shea says, as it breaks up all the cardiovascular work.
She also meditates and watches films of certain boxers like Rocky Marciano, the 1950s heavyweight champion, and controversial 1980s heavyweight champ Mike Tyson.
“I watch their films to see how they won and get in the frame of mind that if they won, I’ll be OK, too.”
Both boxing and football have come under increasing attack in recent years for the concussive effects that have been linked to neurological diseases, including CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). O’Shea is aware of this but not particularly concerned. She wears a padded helmet that nonetheless leaves her face exposed. (Thus far, she has sustained only a little bruise under one eye.)
For her, boxing is a means to an end. She would one day like to be a singer and actress. Working with producer Skyee Barnes, O’Shea recently released a single — “Drown Me Slow,” for which she wrote the lyrics — on iTunes, Pandora and Spotify.
In the meantime, she hasn’t given up her day job at World Class Parking, a valet services company, adding that owner David Cheitel has been supportive of her boxing schedule.
In everything she does, O’Shea says, she believes that the big coach upstairs has been watching out for her. The O’Sheas are staunch supporters of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Hartsdale, as altar servers, ushers and Eucharistic ministers. Marni is no exception.
“It might sound silly, but I have strong faith in God’s protection and I feel safe,” she says, adding that right after she left the Hawks, the team began experiencing a number of injuries.
“It was as if God was guiding me out of there and on to the next thing.”
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