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North Suburban News

Two Stoneham Women Train for Belles of the Brawl

Sep 25, 2018 10:14PM ● By Linda Woods Curtin

STONEHAM - On a Monday evening at the Firicano Boxing & Fitness Center on Main Street in Stoneham, two women are in the ring hurling punches at each other like Ali and Foreman. As they bob and weave, sweaty and breathless, their coach and owner of the gym, Michael Firicano, shouts at them from just outside the ropes, “Get closer. You’re not gonna win at that distance!”

Melisa Thorne and Kaitlyn Fazio, both Stoneham residents, are training to compete in Haymakers for Hope’s “Belles of the Brawl VI” boxing event on October 10 at the House of Blues in Boston. Haymakers for Hope raise money to fight cancer by hosting amateur boxing events in New York, Boston and Denver. To date, the organization has raised over $9 million. More than $1 million of funds raised have been donated for cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Haymakers’ concept is similar to other charities, like those which encourage first-time runners to train for a marathon, collecting sponsorship money along the way. “Except this is much harder,” says Thorne, who is 47-years-old and has run three marathons, one while pregnant. “This is the hardest I have ever worked.” Haymakers for Hope’s first-time boxers partner with local gyms for several months of training and support, culminating in the sanctioned charity boxing event. 

In between daily sparring sessions with Firicano at his gym, muscle conditioning, running, working full-time and being parents (Fazio has eight-month-old twins and a three-year-old), the contenders are fundraising. Thorne and Fazio each have a $5,000 fundraising goal. Currently, Thorne has raised 97 percent of her goal, and Fazio has raised 93 percent. The group of 32 novice boxers who will be fighting in October have raised a total of $283,981 to date.

Thorne, who describes herself as “the most non-confrontational person that you’ll probably ever meet,” is a customer success manager at Pegasystems software company in Cambridge. Before she started training for Haymakers, she had never thrown a punch. Fazio, 31 and an elementary school teaching assistant at Colonial Park School in Stoneham, is slightly more experienced.

“In high school we played Powderpuff Football which always ended up turning into an all-out brawl,” Fazio said. “I played with my older cousins and I was the little, scrappy one who would turn it into an aggressive game of tug-of-war with the football. And, when I played basketball, I used to foul out in all of my games just from being so aggressive.”

Haymakers’ organizers have paired each of the 32 boxers with opponents in their age and weight range. Thorne will be fighting 38-year-old librarian Allie Lawler. Fazio will be squaring off against Janice Kelley, a 26-year-old account manager. The pairs had an opportunity to meet and spar at a Haymakers media event, halfway through their training which commenced in June, but have not been in contact since. “It’s going to be work, but I think it’s going to be pretty even,” says Thorne of her match against Lawler.

Both women have personal reasons for taking up this challenge amid their busy lives. Fazio lost a friend to pancreatic cancer and her father beat lymphoma. “We did not think he was going to make it, and he pushed through.”

Thorne has lost both parents to cancer.

“My mom was pretty young,” Thorne said. “She died from ovarian cancer. My dad passed away in 2016 from brain cancer. And my sister is a two-time cancer survivor. I tell everybody, she is one of the best people I know. She’s one hundred times stronger than I will ever be.”

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