This feature on kick boxer Amy Czerwonka appeared in The Arizona Daily Star on Aug. 10, 1997.

Footwork and timing
UA junior rises to state title by out-kicking her competition

By Ed M. Odeven

The walls of the Tucson Ringmaster Gym are adorned with boxing memorabilia and nostalgic photographs.

Posters of the sweet science’s classic warriors — Julio Cesar Chavez, Roberto Duran, Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard immediately grab your attention.

And then there are the inspirational sayings:

“No pain. No gain.”

“The more you sweat, the less you bleed.”

“Lead with speed. Follow with power.”

But one of the hottest topics around this southside gym is not about the routine display of machismo.

It is about an up-and-coming kick boxer.

A female kick boxer.

She willingly engages in two or three grueling five-round sparring matches with a bulky 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pounder every week.

She smiles when discussing her memorable pre-championship-fight, 11th-hour weight-loss program in June.

“I had to run 2 1/2 miles before (the fight) to drop weight because I was drinking a lot of water. So, two hours before the fight they dressed me up in sweats and plastics bags,” and she was off and running.

She is Amy Czerwonka.

And she is the historic holder of Arizona’s first women’s light welterweight belt in the newly formed United Amateur Kickboxing Federation.

Czerwonka snatched the title by recording a unanimous decision over Phoenix’s Heidi Dillon. The five-round June bout was held in Camp Verde, inside a school gymnasium.

Czerwonka, 21, was thrilled with the outcome.

“It’s a great honor,” she said. “I worked hard. It’s a good realization of saying, ‘You’re the state champ.’ ”

Philip Valencia, Czerwonka’s trainer, was impressed with her no-guts, no-glory fighting style.

“Her performance was great,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better from her.”

George Crawford, the president of Tucson Ringmaster Gym, Inc., agreed.

“I just think it’s outstanding that the girls can come up to that level and really perform and get the crowd motivated as they do,” he said. “The crowd really seems to (get) behind them. We are just fortunate to have the facility to do it.”

It is a facility where Czerwonka and her best friend, Erika Grover, began working out as a way to avoid summertime boredom in June 1996, because “we wanted something to do.”

Czerwonka was not an overnight success.

With Valencia’s guidance, Czerwonka spent three or four months learning the fundamentals of kick boxing.

They began with the basics.

“Footwork and timing,” said Valencia, who acquired a lifelong interest in martial arts after watching Bruce Lee “doing his thing” on the “Green Hornet” television show.

After learning those two important skills, Valencia taught Czerwonka the primary offensive and defensive techniques.

Next up was a sparring match against Grover.

“In the first round, we were just playing around,” Czerwonka recalled. “She was starting to hit me harder, and I was starting to hit her harder. It kind of escalated from there.”

Czerwonka’s sparring debut was a good lesson.

“It’s really hard on your legs,” said Czerwonka, a junior majoring in physical therapy at the University of Arizona. “Just the exercise part without the contact is great exercise. It’s a great way to build your muscles.”

Since joining the gym, Czerwonka has noticed a significant improvement in her physical fitness.

She began running two miles a day after her half-hour conditioning exercises.

“When I first started, I couldn’t do it all,” she said. “(Now), I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at that.”

Nowadays, Czerwonka runs four miles a day, Monday through Friday. She also participates in two-hour workouts Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The sessions include five rounds of jump roping, three rounds of shadow boxing, push-ups and sit-ups.

This strenuous regimen of activities crucial to a kick boxer, Valencia said.

“First of all, it takes a lot of conditioning for kick boxing, because you are not only using your hands but your legs also,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to have that endurance to go five rounds. With two-minute rounds, there is a lot of time.”

Czerwonka also credits her coach’s experience and knowledge as keys to her success.

“He’s taught me everything,” she said. “I totally sucked when I first started.”

Czerwonka, who stands 5 feet 8 inches and weighs 140 pounds, now spars with Art Romero, who is much taller and heavier.

Romero has seen the dramatic progress Czerwonka has made over the past year.

“She improved on her hands very well, and her leg technique got very strong,” he said. “She’s got a lot of wind.”

But more importantly, Czerwonka has taken advantage of the situation.

“He weighs significantly more than I do, so it helps a lot because he puts his weight on,” she said. “Art’s really experienced, so whatever Phil wants me to work on, Art will leave those open. And sometimes I catch them. Sometimes I don’t.”

Czerwonka acknowledges that she needs to avoid being passive in the ring and stick to a no-holds-barred mentality.

“Basically just keep the pressure on,” she said. “I get a couple good hits and then I back away. I need to keep the pressure on, move in forward and fight at an angle.”

As Czerwonka continues to train for her upcoming championship fight with Marissa Murrietta, she feels her bread-and-butter weapon is a push kick.

It’s a weapon she developed against Romero.

“It never was (used) until I started fighting him,” said Czerwonka, who has a 3-2 record as an amateur. “We do drills where he holds the pads at his stomach, and he puts all his weight into it, and I have to try to push him across the ring. That really built up my hip muscles. So when I fought for the state title, I did a push kick, and she flew across the ring. I was shocked.”

Czerwonka’s championship belt will be on the line in a Sept. 20 fight at the Tucson Amigos Indoor Soccer Center.

However, the reigning champ is taking a low-key approach to the fight.

“My goal is to go strong all five rounds, to be able to not be tired and not lose weight at all,” she said.

Like usual, Valencia expects more.

“She’s got the heart and mind to do it,” he said. “If I had 10 of her, I’d have a happy team. I’ve had over 100 students, and maybe only two or three have stuck with it.”

Czerwonka’s motivation?

“It’s a great stress reliever.”