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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Junior captains Giarman and Salamone ready to enter ring for first time

CeCe Giarman and Rachel Salamone might be some of the first junior Baraka Bouts captains to have never actually fought in the Baraka Bouts. Both have been a part of the club since their freshman year and have trained extensively with the other boxers, but circumstances have gotten in the way of the competition for the past two years. With individual injuries and illnesses keeping them out of the competition in 2019 and COVID restrictions preventing the Bouts from happening last year, both Giarman and Salamone have not yet had the opportunity to make an appearance in the ring.

As this year’s competition approaches, however, this lack of experience has not discouraged either from entering the ring or taking on a leadership role within the club, which is the largest women’s club on campus and the largest women’s boxing club in the world. In fact, the anticipation of the last two years has made both Giarman and Salamone even more excited about the upcoming Bouts and the way the club has responded to the adversity of the last two years.

“For both of us, we both medically couldn’t [fight] our freshman year, so I think I could see both of us saying to just do it,” Giarman says when asked about her goals for the upcoming Bouts. “As a club, one thing that was an uncertainty for us was how people would return after COVID. We did have training last year, but there was no contact, I don’t think they even put on gloves. It was really different. They never got to go in the pit and see the bags, so we were nervous about how many people would come back. But quite a few people did come back and quite a few people are competing. Also, we do have a good chunk of freshmen too, so I think it was reassuring to see that despite almost two years of chaos and continued unsettlement, there’s still a passion and it felt good for us to be able to continue to transfer those skills and the passion for the Bouts.”

Salamone echoed Giarman, stressing the importance that the actual competition holds for the club.

“Having the Bouts and personally us participating in the Bouts has been a really big goal. We didn’t really know until we got back this year, for sure that Bouts were going to happen,” Salamone says. “Preparing for that properly and making sure that we have everything in order for that has been a big goal for us. Again, creating the hype and the desire to participate, and especially giving the seniors and people that have been here and have been loyal to the program the Bouts that they deserve and that they envisioned and always wanted.”

The club has been able to do just that, assembling a competition that starts with 29 fights in the quarterfinals on Nov 8th. Punches will be thrown starting at 6 pm in the Dahnke Ballroom, located on the seventh floor of Notre Dame’s Duncan Student Center. Bouts consist of three rounds lasting one minute and 15 seconds each. Five judges determine the winner in each fight.

And while the Bouts themselves are the highlight of the Baraka experience, it makes up just a small part of what the club is all about. Both CeCe and Rachel were adamant that their boxing is just one piece of their job as both participant and captain, saying that their physical exertion is undertaken to make a difference in the lives of students and faculty at St. Joseph Hill School and Lakeside Secondary School in Uganda.

“This year we are fundraising for on-campus places of residence for the faculty and teachers at these schools because a lot of the time they have to come from really far away and it means that [the schools] can’t really hire that many teachers to be able to actually sustain the school just because the long commute means they can’t get that commitment from [teachers],” Salamone explains. “So having places nearby or on-campus would help a lot.”

“They’ve had an issue with retention, too,” Giarman adds. “Even if they do hire someone who is a really great teacher — and they are doing really well rankings-wise in terms of secondary schools in [Uganda] — they just have a problem where teachers will only stay a couple years because either they decide ‘oh my gosh, the commute is too long’ or ‘I want to have a family, it doesn’t make sense for me to be working this far away.’ The other top schools in the country have those places of residence for the teachers, and it also helps with creating a better community for the students with extracurriculars because the teachers are often the ones running those. So when [the teachers] go home at the end of the day, it ends the possibilities of what [the students] could do academically or socially.”

And that seems to be the driving force behind the Baraka Bouts and what fuels the fight in each boxer. Despite the competition between members and the desire to put their training into action in the ring, club members have a very good sense of what is actually important. For Baraka, this is both the teamwork of the boxers pushing each other to be better and fundraising for the schools in Uganda, something that the club takes very seriously. At the time of writing, the club has raised just under $48,000 of their $75,000 goal for 2021. Each year, however, the Wolohan Family Foundation matches the number raised by the club up to $100,000, allowing them to go well over this goal most years. For example, Baraka Bouts raised a whopping $220,000 in 2018.

But as the Bouts themselves get underway this week, focus will shift from fundraising to boxing, especially as Giarman and Salamone step into the ring for the first time.

“I just want to know that I did the best that I could,” Salamone says. “It’s something that I love so much and care about so much that it doesn’t really matter in a way, I’m just excited to do it this year especially after not being able to do it last year or freshman year.”

“On a personal level, I don’t really care how [the fight] ends up,” agrees Giarman. “But as long as I feel like I put in what I’ve been training for and … as long as I come out of the ring feeling like I didn’t just forget everything and just defend myself for a minute-and-a-half and I put my best foot forward.”

And while the two junior captains have limited experience in the ring, they find themselves in a position to lead a club as the senior members following this year’s Bouts. This might seem like a cause for concern to some, but senior vice president Emily Wilborn is confident that the club is in good shape with Giarman and Salamone at the helm and the underclassmen that have joined the Bouts this year.

“I think in my last year I’ve really taken to heart how important it is for me to know that I’m leaving the club in good hands,” says Wilborn. “And I would say with our junior captains CeCe and Rachel we’re absolutely in good hands with them. But also, this year, I know myself, the other captains, and the coaches, we’ve all been so impressed by the freshman and sophomores we have this year. The last few months have really given me hope that I know we are leaving the club with some outstanding people who are really going to carry the missions and carry, you know, the club forward. And I think for me, that means a lot.”