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From self-doubt to validation

LAWRENCE, Kan. – It was a fall evening in 2005 when Mioshia Wagoner attended her first boxing event. At the time, Wagoner was sports editor of the Indian Leader at Haskell Indian Nations University.

A Navajo who was raised in tight-knit Native communities in Gallup, N.M. and White Cone, Ariz., Wagoner was attending Amateur Fight Night, sponsored by the Haskell Boxing Club, looking for a sports story.

Though she didn’t know anything about boxing, what she witnessed that evening captivated her for an entire year: Two women boxers going toe to toe in the ring, one pummeling the other with her power and skills.

“I was amazed.”

Known to everyone as “Yosh” since she was a kid, Wagoner had always been an athlete, whether it was hitting a softball, shooting hoops, playing football or running cross country. “It kept me out of trouble.”

Still on the basketball team for Haskell, Yosh soon made up her mind that she wanted to add boxing to her sports repertoire. “My dad always told me I could do anything I wanted.”

So in 2006, she began her journey as a fighter with the Haskell Boxing Club. It would be a journey that led her to the Women’s World Boxing Championships in November 2008. Through it all, Yosh did not envision how far her determination would take her. It meant she would have to continue to train through periods of lingering self-doubt: “Am I good enough?”

In her brief boxing career, the 5 foot 7 inch southpaw has compiled a 6-3 record and become known for her power and speed. Beginning as a light heavyweight, her fighting weight has trimmed down from nearly 180 to 165 pounds. “My punches are cleaner, crisper, stronger.”


Mioshia Wagoner, also known as “Yosh,” is pictured here in the ring at the 2007 Native American Boxing Championships in all red.

By day, Yosh works as a secretary in Haskell’s Cultural Center and Museum. She earned her degree from Haskell in American Indian Studies and is working toward her master’s in conflict management and dispute resolution from Baker University.

After work, Yosh heads off to Pontiac Hall, training site of the Haskell Boxing Club. In those first few months, she spent exhausting hours in the gym, hitting the bags, lifting weights, sparring with men and repeatedly getting beaten, though her coaches would assure her she was doing well. An asthma sufferer, Yosh sometimes had to use an inhaler between rounds to help her breathe. “It’s been a hard sport for me.”

She admits there have been times when she’s wanted to quit.

“She literally broke down on me twice during training,” said Darren Jacobs, Haskell Boxing Club’s assistant coach.

Her self-doubt was compounded by a lack of light heavyweight female fighters in the Midwest. It was difficult for Yosh’s trainers to find her a bout. At the Team USA Boxing Trials in March 2008, she won by default after the boxers in her weight class failed to show. Yosh would keep preparing herself for battle.

Finally, in November 2008, self-doubt turned to validation in Ningbo City, China at the Women’s World Boxing Championships. Still plagued by the feeling she hadn’t earned her place on the team, Yosh climbed in the ring to face Egypt’s Nadia Mohamed. This was the fight she needed to turn the corner once and for all. She told herself, “I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to give up.”

That determination, Yosh says now, made the difference. She won the match 10-4 and moved on to the semifinals. “I felt like I belonged there. I was really happy with myself.”

Yosh defeated her next opponent, Romania’s Fetti Paraschiva, and advanced to the championship. There, she finally fell to the No. 1-ranked light heavyweight in the world, China’s Jie Li Tang. But perhaps most importantly, the self-doubt was gone. She had earned her way to the championship and was bringing home the silver medal.

In December, Yosh returned home to White Cone, Ariz., where her people, friends and family, honored her with a dinner. “That was a big thing for me. I didn’t think that people would see that as a really big accomplishment. It’s still kind of shocking.”

Now 26, Yosh’s heroes aren’t rock stars or celebrity athletes. They’re the family members and coaches who were there to encourage her and serve as role models.

“My family was always around me,” she said. Though her parents divorced while Yosh was still in grade school, she says, “I really felt loved, and I really felt appreciated.”

Yosh said she draws much of her strength from her grandmother, a tribal elder, and her mother, a working single parent. “She was always working to better us.”

An uncle, Delbert White, stepped up and became a father figure to Yosh, taking her all over to basketball tournaments. “He made a big difference.”

She is also thankful for the support given to her and the boxing club by the Haskell community. “Dr. Warner (Haskell president) definitely helped a lot.”

Jacobs said Yosh has the most important quality it takes to be a fighter – mental toughness. “You gotta have a lot of heart.”

Yosh has her sights set on the Native American Boxing Championships, June 18 – 21 at Haskell Indian Nations University’s Coffin Complex.

“A lot of people say I hit hard,” Yosh said.

“She has so much potential, it’s unreal,” Jacobs said. “She has the world in front of her now.”

Lorraine Jessepe can be reached at