Norfolk Woman to Fight in Belles of the Brawl
By Grace Allen
On December 7, Dawne Galetta will lace up boxing gloves and step into the ring, hoping to deliver a knockout punch to cancer. The Norfolk woman will be taking on an opponent for three two-minute rounds in the all-female “Belles of the Brawl VIII” to be held at the House of Blues in Boston.
The annual charity event, hosted by the non-profit Haymakers for Hope foundation, raises money for cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Galetta will be one of twenty-eight women participating in fourteen boxing matches that night. At age 52, she will be the oldest competitor. Her age is a poignant milestone because her father passed away in 1994 at the same age from adrenal carcinoma, a rare cancer.
“I was not looking forward to turning 52,” she said. “So when Belles came up and I applied for it, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if I could do this for a cause that my father died from when he was the same age as me? It just kind of came together.”
Galetta was looking for a new gym three years ago when she joined Elite Boxing & Fitness in North Attleborough. She had never boxed before but was intrigued when she saw women sparring one day. Her trainer, Paul Locke, saw her interest and predicted she would take up boxing.
“I said to him, ‘Are you crazy? No way am I going in that ring.’ And then three months later, I’m in the ring sparring,” she said, laughing. “So he must have seen something in me to think I could do this.”
Hundreds of Boston-area women applied to participate in the 2021 Belles of the Brawl VIII. In addition to Galetta, three other area women--Hannah Doyle, 24, Liz Ward, 36, and Lisa DeFrancesco, 46--were chosen from Elite Boxing & Fitness, which is unusual.
Participants train for four months leading up to the match. Like the other competitors, Galetta is athletic and physically fit. She had played softball and soccer in high school and tennis in college and has run a marathon. Boxing, however, is different, she said.
“It’s hard. Really hard. Not only are you learning how to punch, but you’re also learning how to move your feet and head, all while anticipating where the punch is going to come from,” she explained. “It’s weight-lifting, running, sprinting, getting your cardio up. The first time I did a two-minute round in the ring, I felt like I had run five miles. I was exhausted.”
She credits her trainer, Paul Locke, for getting her to where she is now, ready to participate in a charity fight.
“He gives his heart and soul to this,” she said. “He is so dedicated, so knowledgeable. His technique is very focused on defensive training. He tells the four of us, you can punch as hard as hell but you have to be able to defend yourself too.”
Belles of the Brawl adheres to USA Boxing rules and regulations, so each boxer will face an opponent compatible in age and weight. Participants, especially those over 45—considered the Masters division--must have physical exams and tests such as an EKG to ensure they are physically healthy and ready to fight.
Although very rare, tragedy can still strike. In September, Leslie Johnson, a fellow boxer from Elite Boxing & Fitness, died after getting punched in the head while sparring at another gym. She had been training for a different charity fight.
The death stunned the four women from Elite training for Belles of the Brawl.
“Leslie was the strongest woman in the gym. She was our dear friend and we are still in shock.” Galetta paused. “But she would not want us to be worried. She would tell us, get in there and go get it. We are taking that attitude in honor of her, and we are determined. Because that is what she would want us to do.”
It has helped Galetta to keep her focus on why she is fighting on December 7—for her father, and for the other people she knows, too many she says, who are battling cancer, an unrelenting opponent.
“I think about friends and family who had cancer, or who are fighting cancer now,” she said. “A punch in the face is nothing, nothing, compared to what they’re going through. And that’s what keeps me grounded and keeps me going. It drives me.”
Galetta, who has committed to raising $7,500, is riding a wave of support. Her three children are proud and excited for her, she says. Her siblings are proud, too. Her mother, although worried, understands why she is fighting. In Norfolk, shops and restaurants have hung up posters for her and promoted the event on social media.
“It’s overwhelming and I’m so grateful. But I feel a lot of responsibility,” she shared. “I want to do really well. I am a competitor and I love to win. Winning would be icing on the cake. But I will be happy if I get in that ring and know I couldn’t have done more to prepare and that I gave it my best.”
The fight takes place at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne Street, Boston, on Tuesday, December 7 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, or to make a donation to Galetta, visit www.haymakersforhope.org. At press time, tickets to the event were still available.