Fighting the Good Fight: The Baraka Bouts

Author: Sophia Ochoa

As we all know, the Notre Dame Irish embody the phrase, “a force for good,” in any way that they can. Today, I’m here to highlight a very special example on campus: the women’s boxing club, also known as the Baraka Bouts. The club teaches female students the basics of boxing while raising money for the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa. The Baraka Bouts culminates in their tournament to close out the season, where qualifying students compete to be their bracket’s champion. This year, all funds were to fund the construction of new female dormitories at Lake View Senior Secondary School and St. Joseph’s Hill Secondary School in Uganda. Here is a pretty fun fact about Baraka Bouts: it is the biggest women’s boxing club in the world!

This year, I wanted to gain some insight into the club and the tournament. So what better way than to learn from the members themselves?

Nicole Lies ‘24 (second row, middle left) along with her fellow captains for this year’s Baraka Bouts.
Nicole Lies ‘24 (second row, middle left) along with her fellow captains for this year’s Baraka Bouts.

*Note: the interview was conducted before the Baraka Bouts tournament this semester.

Now, let’s meet our boxers!

We have Nicole “Knuckles” Lies, a senior from Naperville, IL majoring in Chemical Engineering who was formerly in Welsh Fam but currently lives off-campus. Nicole has been a part of Baraka Bouts for four years and is one of this year’s captains!

We also have Maisie “I Don’t Have One Yet” Jenuwine, a first-year from South Bend, IN, but calls Cavanaugh Hall her home under the dome. She is majoring in Honors Math but she is open to exploring more paths.

Could you describe Baraka Bouts in your own words?

Nicole: “Baraka Bouts is the most empowering club on campus. It's a community that will support you through anything, a sport that teaches you confidence and strength, and a mission that has helped thousands of people across the world.”

Maisie: “Most of the practices start with a workout, then [we] learn boxing techniques and I think it’s really fun and cool that people of all skill levels can work together and learn something new, or at least new to me.”

How did you find out about Baraka Bouts? What drew you to join?

Nicole: “I found out about Baraka Bouts from my older sister, a 2020 grad and 4-year boxer, but I never thought I would join! It wasn't until a few of my friends joined freshman year, and it was one of the few clubs running through COVID, that I decided to join for the workouts.”

Nicole Lies ‘24 poses with a friend from women's boxing club.
Nicole Lies ‘24, in her first year during COVID-19.

Maisie: “I heard about it from posters and it was advertised at a couple of different places but I was like “Uhm this looks cool but I’ve never done boxing before and that sounds scary”. So I went to the intro meeting and I thought I probably wasn’t going to do this but Emma Speyrer (a current two-year boxer also from Cavanaugh Hall) said that it was really fun and that I should at least come to the first practice…and that’s where we are now!”

How are you feeling about the tournament next week?

Nicole: “I'm super excited. Of course, I'm nervous, but I think it's going to be incredible to see my and 70 other boxers' hard work from the season pay off!”

Maisie: “I’m very excited to do something new. It’s very out of my comfort zone so I’m really nervous too. [I’m] not really sure what to expect because I’ve never seen any sort of boxing tournament before. But you know, we’ll see how it goes.”

What’s your favorite part about the club?

Nicole: “My favorite part is the community. I've made some of my best friends through this club, but even [the] girls I've just met are so supportive and uplifting. There's something really special about the bond you create from suffering through a brutal workout with someone, or having them comfort you after a tough spar.”

Maisie: “I really like the community and the atmosphere because I feel like it’s very uplifting. They don’t force you to do anything that you don’t want to do and you’re working towards your personal best, not any expectation anyone else sets for you. I really like that you can go at your own pace but they encourage you to do your best.”

Here’s a bit of a more fun question: do you have a favorite boxing combination?

Nicole: “My favorite combo is 1-2-3-2!”

Maisie: “I don’t know if I have a favorite one yet but I’m working on Catch 1. It’s just where you block your opponent’s jab and then do your own. That’s the one I need to work on most.”

Do you two have any goals or expectations for this year’s tournament?

Nicole: “As a boxer, I want to win my bracket, especially since it's my last chance. As a captain and president, I want to help every single girl have a good experience and walk out of the ring feeling accomplished and empowered. I also want to raise as much money as possible!”

Maisie: “My main goal from the season was to make it to the tournament. So I just want to do my best and hopefully have fun!”

The Notre Dame women's boxing club members.
The women’s boxing club combines fundraising with workout exercises throughout the season.

Maisie, as a first year, how has Baraka Bouts shaped your first semester on campus?

Maisie: “I think it’s definitely given me a lot to do in my free time which is nice and it’s allowed me to meet a lot of new people, other freshmen, and upperclassmen that I’ve never interacted with before. A lot of people in Cavanagh are in Baraka Bouts so it’s given me a good reason to meet people in my dorm too.”

Lastly for you, Nicole, looking back at your journey at ND, how do you think you have grown over the past couple of years through Baraka?

Nicole: “Baraka Bouts has definitely shaped me as a person and a leader. I am far more confident in myself and comfortable in my body than I was four years ago. I've also learned how to be a supportive, encouraging, and dedicated leader in my time as a captain!”

Maisie displayed a valiant debut in her first Bouts, even though she lost via split decision against senior, Lily Storrs. Nicole would later win her bracket in the Baraka Bouts via unanimous decision, achieving her goal and ending her time in the women’s boxing club at Notre Dame on a sweet note.