Ex-Ballerina Makes Boxing Ring Her New Stage
By Kiratiana Freelon on May 3, 2011 7:15am |
By Jill Colvin and Gabriela Resto-Montero
MIDTOWN — Dancing around the ring as she pounds her opponent, ducking punches and throwing jabs, Eileen "Miyoko" Olszewski has come a long way from pink tutus and Swan Lake.
After arriving in New York from Hawaii two decades ago in hopes of making it as a professional ballerina, Miyoko eventually put her athletic prowess to work in the ring, working her 112-pound frame into a prize-fighting machine and earning the nickname the "Hawaiian Mongoose." She said she sees the switch as a natural progression.
"Boxing’s not just a sport. It really is an art form," said Miyoko, 42, as she sat beside the ring in between training sessions at the Sykes Boxing gym in Midtown that she owns with her husband.
"Ballet is a very glorious act and boxing is as well. But it’s also very humbling at the same time ... You just have to live in the moment, just like dance."
Miyoko arrived to the sport in an unconventional way — leaving her native Hawaii behind at 20 to come to New York City, where she performed in several small dance companies.
Eventually, she began auditioning for more commercial gigs and landed herself a coveted spot as one of the Knicks City Dancers, strutting her stuff for the team during what she described as "the golden age of hip hop."
Later, she moved into stunt work, going on the road with Mortal Kombat: Live Tour. It was during that time, working out one day, that she caught the eye of professional kickboxer Matthew "Sykes" Olszewski, who challenged her to learn "how to fight for real."
More than a decade later, she was married to Olszewski, who also become her coach as she prepares to defend her title as the three-time WIBA Flyweight World Champion at the New York State Championships in June.
The two run Sykes Boxing together as part of the SportsLab rehab center in Midtown, training everyone from white-collar businessmen looking to let off steam to professional athletes dealing with injuries, including players from the Yankees, Phillies, Dallas Cowboys and Mets.
Miyoko rose through the boxing ranks with an uncanny knack, blasting through the amateur ranks and never losing a single match, her husband said.
"That was pure determination. She just had the pure desire to beat you up, no matter what she looks like," Olszewski said.
In addition, Miyoko's 25-years of dance define her in the ring, her husband said.
"She uses her ballet background and her footwork kind of like Muhammad Ali did," Olszewski said, explaining how when her opponent strikes, Miyoko's already out of the way, often on the other side of the ring.
"You never know where she’s going to be," he said. "It’s like a mongoose against a snake."
Today, Miyoko has fought across the world and in almost every state in the nation. She fought on Evander Holyfield’s card in Switzerland and, most recently, fought for Don King in Miami.
Despite its reputation for toughness, Miyoko said boxing hurts less than ballet. She recommends it as a form of rehab for injured athletes — helping pitchers regain strength by pounding speedbags, or pushing football players back to top form by using intricate footwork. The sport can also be a psychological boost for those who need the confidence to feel strong again.
"It’s very therapeutic," Miyoko said.
Miyoko's clients at Sykes Boxing praise her grace and her power, and say they're as entertained by watching her in the ring as they are watching a ballet performance on the stage.
"It’s like watching ballet. She makes it looks so easy," said Melissa Keyte, 51, of the Upper East Side, who trains with Miyoko.
"I’d love to see the other ballerinas get in the ring with her."
Sykes Boxing is located at 15 W. 39th St. Sessions cost $125 an hour, by appointment only.