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Grand Rapids native puts up a fight to fund her Olympic dreams

Grand Rapids native Heidi Henriksen throws a jab. Henriksen, now 29, didn’t get into boxing until she was 22 years old, with her first fight coming at the age of 23. After winning a silver medal at the USA Boxing National Championships in January, Henriksen was invited to the USA Boxing National Team after the fighter who beat her, Dara Shen, dropped out. Henriksen is holding a fundraiser tonight in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of Adan Torres / . 1 / 2
Grand Rapids native Heidi Henriksen (right) throws a punch against a sparring partner. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Henriksen2 / 2

Grand Rapids native Heidi Henriksen, a member of USA Boxing’s elite women’s national team, has her heart set on competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio after winning a light heavyweight silver medal in January at the USA National Championships in Spokane, Wash.

Unlike her recent Team USA training camp roommate, Mikaela Mayer, however, Henriksen doesn’t have any big-name sponsors such as Dr. Pepper to help pay her bills while chasing the Olympic dream.

“With my commitment to the team, I’m not able to work full-time. I spend a lot of time away,” said Henriksen, who works as a personal trainer, boxing instructor and yoga teacher at Uppercut Boxing Gym in Minneapolis. “I work as much as I possibly can while I’m home, while still trying to maintain an intense training schedule.”

Henriksen, 29, is holding the second of two fundraising kickoffs from 4:30-8:30 p.m. today at the Grand Rapids Eagle’s Club, featuring an open house, barbeque dinner, live music and prizes. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 and younger.

Her first fundraiser took place Aug. 6 at Uppercut, where she also trains when not with Team USA at its headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. She also has a website — crowdrise.

com/TeamHeidiUSA — that accepts donations.

USA Boxing covers the costs of her travel to training camps and competitions, and she also receives a small monthly stipend from the organization for being a part of Team USA, but no full-time salary for being an Olympic hopeful.

“I’m rallying support from the community I grew up in and the community that I train in right now,” Henriksen said.

“The financial support is very amazing and necessary, but even more exciting for me is seeing all the people that are cheering me on from home.”

Home, in Grand Rapids, is where Henriksen first began throwing punches, socking a punching bag in a good friend’s basement as a youngster. That was the extent of Henriksen’s “boxing” experience until she joined Uppercut at the age of 22 as a way to stay active.

“I really loved soccer,” Henriksen said about her previous sports experience, having also dabbled in volleyball. “I was involved in sports in some way, but I focused a lot more on the arts. I was involved in music activities and theatre activities, as well as visual arts.”

Henriksen originally started with a free introductory class at Uppercut, then signed up for a month of classes. After 7-8 months at the gym, owner Lisa Bauch invited Henriksen to start sparring in the ring. After a year at the gym, Henriksen had her first bout at the age of 23.

“I just kept saying ‘yes’ to those opportunities and it kind of snowballed,” Henriksen said.

“I didn’t grow up with the sport. That wasn’t something I was around. It’s not necessarily in my blood in the same way for someone who started when they were 8 or whose father was involved in it.”

Henriksen is 10-3 overall as a fighter, having reached the semifinals of the Ringside World Championships in 2010 before winning the 178-pound title in 2011.

Despite losing out on a national title at 178 pounds in January, Henriksen received her invite to be a part of Team USA after the fighter who beat her in Spokane, Dara Shen, left the national team.

“When I first got the email, I had to refresh it a couple times and I kept asking, ‘Did they send this to the right person?’ ” Henriksen said. “People always say it’s a lot of hard work to get to the top, but once you get there, you still have to keep working to keep that spot. That’s been the experience so far.”

Henriksen has participated in two training camps with Team USA thus far and will compete in the upcoming Continental Games. She then has to requalify for next year’s national team at the 2015 USA National Championships, where she hopes to drop to the 165-pound middleweight class.

Unlike the Continental Games and World Championships, where there are 10 weight classes in women’s boxing, the Olympics only feature three: flyweight (112 pounds), lightweight (132) and middleweight (165).

“I have just as good of a chance as anyone or just as much of a right to try for it as anyone else, so why not give it my best shot and see what happens?” Henriksen said. “I feel like I’m set up really well right now. I’m getting the national team-level training leading into early 2015 when the Olympic qualifiers will happen. I feel really awesome about my chances of making it to the qualification round, and I know the competition will be really intense.”

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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