By Diane Ako
When I reached Eileen Miyoko Olszewski by phone, she was just finishing her two hour daily workout at the boxing gym. She's keeping it "short" now that's she's 46 years old, she told me.
"I run about ten miles a week, in addition to shadowboxing 20 minutes straight. I also spar two to three times a week. and add in stretching, and reinforcement exercises to work the underused muscles," she detailed, making me tired just hearing it!
It's the kind of determination that catapulted Olszewski to the title of the oldest current boxing champion in the world, male or female. She was 45 years old when she earned that distinction in September 2013 in a fight against Patricia Alcivar for the world flyweight title. It was a quick ascension for a woman who only turned pro seven years before, at age 38.
In a way, it's a surprising turn for the Palolo native, who didn't expect to make a career of professional boxing, despite the fact that she loved to watch boxing every Saturday on television with her father.
Still, the Kaimuki High School graduate had danced through school, and after graduation, turned down a partial Rainbow Dancer scholarship to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to train with ballet great Noland Dingman in Florida. From there, she parlayed her dancing skills into a job at Disneyworld, before moving to New York City and taking odd jobs before finally scoring a rare opportunity.
"I was selected to be a Knicks City Dancer for the New York Knicks NBA team. This was from 1992 to 1995 under Coach Pat Riley, when this was the hottest ticket in the NBA, and when hip hop was in its golden age!" reflects Olszewski of the unforgettable experience.
After her tenure with the Knicks ended, Mortal Kombat: Live Tour hired her as a stuntwoman as it played on stages across South America.
Olszewski transitioned into boxing after she met her husband, Matthew, who was a boxing trainer. "I met Matthew in a martial art studio in Chinatown in Manhattan. I was rehearsing for a kung fu movie trailer with Stephen Tartarglia, a stuntman in Hong Kong and in Jackie Chan films. Matthew was visiting New York and strolled in. We both were surprised later to find out we liked the same restaurant out of the hundreds in Chinatown!"
Matthew started training her and recognized she had an aptitude for striking. "I like boxing. Like dance, it's both an art and a science. I like that there's always more to master," she explains. "I constantly continue my education; I study anatomy and kinesiology for my work as a trainer and rehab/performance specialist. I study fights and train with high intensity to stay in top of my game."
With his encouragement, Olszewski pursued the sport seriously. "I still remember my first fight. It was terrifying! I still remember little details like the floor being turquoise, and this woman coming at me, me trying to block her and looking at the floor wondering, 'Why am I here? All my friends are back in Hawaii having babies!' Then I told myself to get a grip and I stopped her in the second round."
Looks are deceiving. In person, she is gorgeous - a petite and feminine woman whose beautifully sculpted muscles don't seem like they can deliver such a punishing blow. She smiles easily and radiates charisma.
She's not sure when she will hang up the gloves and what would be next, but says a logical transition would be to train up and coming fighters. "I have assisted Matthew in training his latest two amateur champions, however he has already produced many amateur champions and has trained and cornered several professional world champions" she details.
When she's not boxing, she likes to cook, stroll through flea markets, and picnic at Central Park, which is near her residence. She says she'd love to retire in Hawaii!
Meantime, she's planned a visit to Oahu for this fall, to see her mother, and possibly, make a public appearance. Count me among her new fan base.