By: Ashley Mark/TRT Reporter–
LONDON, Conn. — Shelito Vincent has struggled against all odds throughout her life and found a renewed purpose in an unlikely source. As an openly gay, female professional boxer from New London, CT, Vincent harnesses her energy to create positive results both inside the ring and within the community.
Vincent may be empowered now, but she faced indescribable horrors in her childhood.
“I was raped repeatedly by a family friend at a young age,” Vincent explained about her difficult childhood, “and I also survived prolonged abuse from the children and adults around me.”
When she was only 18, Vincent lost her young mother to leukemia. “I fell into a deep depression and had bouts of alcoholism,” Vincent recalled. She described this time in her life as “crazy,” with thoughts of ending her life to escape her harmful habits and debilitating emotional struggles.
Vincent went to live with her grandparents after her mother passed away. “She was broken for so long after her mother died,” said Roberta Vincent, the boxer’s grandmother. “But boxing is what keeps her going now and gives her a place to put all her past struggles.”
The boxer attributes the sport to offering her an outlet for her pain, providing the therapeutic release she had been searching for. “Boxing is what turned me around and snapped me out of the destructive pattern,” Vincent said. She said she had always loved the sport, watching it as a child and mimicking the moves she saw on television. Vincent thrived on the focus and discipline required by boxing, and it encouraged her to live a healthier lifestyle so she could be a successful athlete.
Peter Manfredo, Sr., Vincent’s coach, agreed that she is focused on perfecting her craft. “Her strongest asset is her ability to get to the next level, to overcome any obstacle in her path,” Manfredo said. “She wants to win and will do whatever it takes to get there.”
Manfredo has known Vincent for almost two years, ever since she approached him about coaching her in the sport.
“At first I wasn’t that interested,” Manfredo explained. “But she promised to work as hard as I wanted, so I agreed and fell in love with her.”
Both Manfredo and her grandmother say that people seem to fall in love with Vincent when they meet her. “She has a personality that is welcoming and inviting, and a smile that’s infectious,” said Roberta Vincent.
Her personality and steadfast commitment has garnered many fans for Vincent, Manfredo confirmed.
“She has a huge following that continues to grow because of the effort she puts into her craft,” he said.
The rigor and demands of boxing weren’t the only things that helped Vincent turn her life around. “The new family I found in the boxing gyms supported me,” Vincent said. That new family and much-needed support gave Vincent the strength to overcome her opponents in the ring. “When I get in the ring, I take it all out on that person across from me,” Vincent described. “Come fight night, they are fighting my past, my demons and [the painful loss of] my mother.”
Vincent enjoyed significant success as an amateur boxer with an 11-4 record, according to the profile on her gym’s website, the Striking Beauties, winning numerous State and National titles, including a National Golden Gloves Championship in 2011. She made her professional debut in October 2011, and currently holds an impressive 7-0 record.
Being an openly gay woman in a male-dominated sport has its challenges.
“I’ve come to find that a lot of guys don’t know how to deal,” Vincent explained. “Do they treat me like one of the guys or like a woman?” At the end of the day, though, they all train hard together, she said. “We are all fighters, part of the same family.”
Vincent also faced pressure from her previous coach to change her appearance and present herself as more feminine. “They usually go for the pretty girls, to market their looks, because sex sells,” Vincent said. “But I refused and stayed true to myself, and I am the highest ticket seller on my team.”
While Vincent feels as though she is more accepted now as an openly gay boxer, she has faced discrimination in the past in her profession. “I have been robbed of decisions in fights for being gay,” recalled Vincent. She persevered, trained harder than anyone and believes everything is coming together now, she said.
Vincent focuses on her community and people in need as much as she focuses on her training and professional goals. She does what she can when there are cancer fundraisers, donating money from her parties and volunteering her time at events that raise money for cancer research. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society are particularly significant for Vincent’s philanthropic efforts. “It’s important for me to give to them, in honor of my mother,” Vincent explained.
Roberta Vincent knows that her granddaughter carries the loss of her mother with her.
“She went to her mom’s grave after her last fight,” her grandmother said. “She always has her mom with her.”
At-risk youth are also an important aspect of Vincent’s contributions to her community. She frequently visits local schools to speak with kids about anti-bullying, and she is interested in being an at-risk youth counselor. She said she feels it is her responsibility to give back in this respect. “If one person would have talked to me during my situation it would have changed my whole life,” Vincent said.
Vincent knows the pain that bullying can cause, and the trouble that retaliation can bring.
“I have been bullied because I am gay, but I was a fighter and I fought back,” she said. “I got into a lot of trouble for lashing out with my fists and my mouth, I even ended up in jail.” She believes in the power of reaching out to someone when you need help and asking for advice instead of letting emotions turn into destructive behavior. This is the advice she gives to students when she speaks out against bullying.
As a trainer at Striking Beauties, she impacts the children she works with by teaching them not to judge by appearances.
“They see that despite my appearance, I am kind and smart.”
She is also heavily involved with World Boxing Cares, an organization that promotes anti-bullying. “I am proud to be one of the fighters that they have on call to speak to kids, or support and encourage wherever it’s needed,” Vincent said. She believes that initiatives like this help change negative attitudes and build stronger character, and can significantly impact the lives of the youth she reaches out to.
Reaching out to troubled youth, supporting non-violence initiatives and empowering the children she interacts with are a few of the ways that Vincent is an inspiration to others.
“I give hope to lost souls that think it’s too late,” she said. “I’m living proof that you can overcome, and it’s better late than never.”
Mary del Pino Morgan, Vincent’s manager, agrees that Vincent is an inspiration. “She has used adversity as fuel, and works so hard to be successful,” said del Pino Morgan. “She is a great example of how you can turn negatives to positives with work and dedication.”
Boxing was Vincent’s opportunity to make a positive change in her life, but she encourages everyone to find their own passion through which to channel their energy.
“You have to find ways to channel your thoughts and bad intentions into something positive,” Vincent said passionately. And the hard work pays off when she is victorious against all odds. “To me, fight night symbolizes me beating life.”
Vincent always has a large cheering squad at her fights, encouraging her loudly. Roberta Vincent helps to sell tickets and said she always has her own row at Vincent’s fights. Vincent’s grandfather is usually present in that row, despite suffering from dementia. “He changes when he is at her fights, he is so proud of her,” Roberta Vincent said. “And having him there means a lot to her.”
“I am adversity,” Vincent said. “I don’t even remember what losing feels like anymore, and the past doesn’t haunt me. Anything is attainable, and it’s never too late to talk to someone.”
To learn more about Vincent’s upcoming fights, visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ShelitosWayBoxing.