Beyond the Game: Female boxers in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- In the 2004 movie "Million Dollar Baby," a determined Hillary Swank works to become a professional boxer. In 2013, in real life, some Milwaukee-area women have found that climbing into the ring is liberating.

Marissa Zuniga's after-school activity is boxing, and she trains nightly in Milwaukee -- despite going to Racine Horlick High School.

"I tried other sports, but they didn't work, so I'm going to stick to boxing. I don't know, it just clicks for me. It is hard work though. I got to push harder than any other sport that I did before," Zuniga said.

Veronica Aguilar is in the gym too, even if her school teacher wonders why.

"She's always like 'Veronica!' Everyone who knows is like, 'don't do boxing. Your face is too pretty. Don't mess it up.' And I'm like, 'who's in there? Me or you?' I'm in there and I know what I'm getting into," Aguilar said.

Alexis Arteaga is a legitimate ring girl too.

"I'm a boxer-boxer, you know. There's brawlers and all different types of boxers, but I'm a boxer," Arteaga said.

It wasn't too long ago that a female boxer was a novelty, but these three ladies are part of a growth area in the sport. They are at various points on the development spectrum, but all are notable in their commitment to training.

"The fact that there are guy -- I think every girl has her insecurities, so the fact that we're even training with guys and all sweating and looking bleh -- it's pretty intimidating," Aguilar said.

"Now that I've been here for awhile, they gain respect and now everybody is like 'it's Alexis. Hey Alexis.' I'm one of the guys now. At least I think so. I hope so!" Arteaga said.

Maria Velazquez is a former boxer herself and now connects very well with her fighters as a coach. She feels the so-called sweet science is much more mental than physical and decidedly therapeutic.

"A lot of the young adults here -- not just the females have a little anger issues, you know, things to deal with -- and this is the best way to get it out. It's a very positive way to get it out. It helps people. It's like therapy," Velazquez said.

While training holds appeal for these ladies, actually fighting is the ultimate outlet. Zuniga recently won her first bout.

"When I put on the gloves, I got all excited and happy and ended up knocking her out in the second round. Knocked her down. She didn't want to get up. She was crying. I have older brothers, so her punches didn't really hurt me, but I did feel bad," Zuniga said.

One of the biggest challenges for female boxers if finding qualified opponents in matching weight classes.