Pink Gloves Boxing is a women’s empowerment movement that started in Montana, expanded across the U.S. and has since grown all the way to Scandinavia. But in order to explain how the program started and why two men are at the forefront, Garret Garrels and Nick Milodragovich would like to start by thanking their mothers.
Strength has no gender. That’s what my mom showed me; with her words, her actions, and the way she could pick up a hay bale and toss it in the truck. I grew up on a ranch just outside of Anaconda, MT. While my dad was at work, my mom was feeding animals, fixing fences, and with her other arm, she was making sure her youngest son wasn’t causing any trouble, or hitting himself on the head with a claw-hammer––which thankfully happened only once. My mom gave me the freedom to be myself, and the wisdom to learn from my mistakes. I found the freedom right away. But most of the wisdom didn’t appear until years later.
The simplest route through my childhood is to follow the trail of broken noses. The incident with the claw-hammer was the first time I broke my nose. I was two years old, and I’d like to point out that it was an accident. Though I was too young to remember what my mom said at the time, according to her version of the story, which I’ve heard several times since, she held an icepack on my face and said, “Garret, please, don’t ever do that again! Someday, you are going to need your head, and if you keep…” There’s more when she’s telling the story, but that marks the beginning of: Lessons I Learned As A Kid But Didn’t Understand Until I Was An Adult.
Now that I’m older, and comparatively wiser, I understand that my mom was teaching me the difference between a strong mind and a hard head.
The second time I broke my nose, I was running through the house out of control. I happen to be four years old, and the exact same height as our kitchen countertop. The cold, marble corner was also the cause of my third busted nose, but I have yet to discover any significant lessons from either case. When I asked my mom about it, she just said that the reason the two scars were in different places––and looked like ski bumps––was because I had grown a half-inch taller between the time of the two incidents.
The next several years of my life are what my mom likes to call, “The Recuperation Phase,” which began when she remodeled the kitchen, and ended when I joined the boxing club. I was eleven. And even though I trained until my senior year of high school without getting a scratch on my nose, she still believes my face was doomed from the day I first walked in the gym. She said, “Your connection with boxing was so strong that if I had tried to pull you away, your whole world would have shattered.” Along with my nose, I thought.
At the time, I’m sure she secretly wished I had never got into boxing. But all I ever heard were her words of encouragement. She believed in me, no matter what activity I chose. Whether I was competing in the ring, in the gym or in a spelling contest, my mom supported me.
Looking back, there are so many times when I thought about quitting. If I had been wise enough then, I would have told her that she was the reason I never gave up. If I would have only known that my strength came from her strength.
Because I never gave up, in my last year of high school, I broke my nose again. Twice. First, during a sparring match when I decided not to wear headgear, I slipped into a left hook. Then, during a football game, when my helmet got knocked off, the facemask did a reverse skid as it shot into the air. But busted noses no longer worried my mom. She’d say, “That’s not nearly as bad as the time you hit yourself with the hammer.” She was more concerned about my future, and what I would do after high school, because she could tell that I was lost.
After transferring to several universities, I eventually ended up at Carroll College, in Helena, MT. That’s where I met Nick.
– Garret Garrels
It doesn’t matter your gender, your size, or how loud you speak. Strength has no volume. My mom is five foot two and the quietest person in the room. She has a way of smiling that makes the angels jealous. But make no mistake, she’s a fighter – not a street fighter (that was Dad in high school), but someone who could gracefully roll with the punches that Life threw at her.
She watched as my dad taught me how to box in the 1st grade. “Hands up,” he said. “Always keep your guard up. Now Jab, Jab, Hard Right.” And I hit his hands: Jab—Jab—Hard Right. My mom cheered me on, “Wow, that's a hard right.” My dad turned and replied, “He must get it from you.” But all I heard was “hard right,” so that’s exactly what I threw – and I hit my dad square on the nose.
He started bleeding but smiled this ‘proud dad’ smile (like, hey my son can punch!). My mom just laughed at him, “That’s what happens when you let your guard down.”
She never cared to be the center of attention. The only praise she indulged in was if someone admired her sons or if my dad bellowed some hearty gratitude about her cooking. At dinner he would say, “If you marry someone who can cook like this, you’ll never leave.” Then my mom would reply, “I’m glad my cooking is what kept us together!” But it wasn’t her cooking, it was her consistency. She came to every football game, she cooked every night, and most of all – she was always there.
Then when I was 19, my dad passed away from a seven-year fight with cancer. Now, for the first time since the 8th grade, my mom was alone. I remember that first hug with her after Dad had passed. I had never seen my mom so heartbroken. I wanted to be strong for her, but I felt helpless to help. I thought I had to do something special, or be someone special, or find some special way to give her the strength I knew she was missing.
It wasn’t until my brother’s wedding that I got to see my mom as not just my “mom” but as a woman. A very strong woman, whose quiet nature I mistook for paralyzing grief. She was in her element, surrounded by family – and she didn’t have to be the life of the party, because she was the pillar of it. In her own unassuming way, she was the spirit that held us all together. Our family’s rock and anchor.
My mom showed me a whole new way of looking at strength: it didn’t have to be loud and boisterous. Quiet strength has its own powers: it’s resilient, it strengthens those around us, and it’s there when we really need it.
I went to Carroll College in Helena to play football. I was amazed at the welcoming attitude on the team. Our team wasn’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest; but we may have been the closest – and those bonds of friendship led to three national championships in my four years.
Going into my final year, I remember Garret transferring to Carroll College. All the new transfers were in the weight room when I first saw them. Garret looked liked a Hulk Hogan impersonator, with an American Flag bandana and a ridiculous red mustache. I didn’t know if this was my new teammate of part of a traveling performance group. I half-expected to see him rip off his t-shirt and wrestle the kicker.
Garret was a little rough around the edges. During those first few months, we didn’t hang around each other much. Then one weekend something happened. My roommates and I walked a few blocks to campus and passed a street that was stained with spatters of blood.
– Nick Milodragovich
To Be Continued…