AFTERMATH Boxer's friends stunned by death
Becky Zerlentes had a brown belt in taekwondo and loved to box.
DENVER (AP) -- It was the kind of blow that occurs thousands of times in boxing matches across the country: In the third round of a women's bout, Becky Zerlentes took a shot to the head above her left eye, then staggered forward and fell to the canvas.
Only this time, Zerlentes never regained consciousness and died, becoming the first female boxer to die in a sanctioned event.
The death stunned those who knew Zerlentes, a 34-year-old college instructor remembered as a fun-loving, adventurous person who had a particular fondness for sports.
"This is so much more than about boxing," said Mary Croissant, who taught with Zerlentes at Front Range Community College. "She was the Energizer Bunny of our campus. She was turbo woman. She had a smile and a light in her heart that touched everyone she came in contact with. I miss her. I need her to still be alive."
A giving person
Zerlentes, who held a Ph.D in geography, rode her bike everywhere and chided those who wouldn't drive to work together because driving alone wasted energy. She organized group walks for the faculty, urging everyone to pick up trash along the way. A massage therapist, she asked that friends donate money to charity instead of paying her.
Zerlentes also had a brown belt in taekwondo and enjoyed boxing, which led her to compete in the Colorado Golden Gloves event on Saturday night. She died the next afternoon of what the coroner ruled blunt force trauma.
Though the number of female boxers is still relatively low -- 2,200 are currently registered -- interest in the sport has gradually increased since USA Boxing lifted its ban on women's boxing in 1993.
The success of boxers like Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila, and the Academy Award-winning film "Million Dollar Baby" has put the sport more into the mainstream, as did the brief forays into the ring by B-list celebrities like former figure skater Tonya Harding and pinup model Mia St. John.
While women's boxing isn't likely to ever come close to reaching the status of the men's side -- the sport is a long shot to be added for the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- any increase raises the chances that women are going to get hurt or killed in the ring.
"The USA Boxing family's thoughts and prayers go out to Becky's family and husband. We are deeply saddened by this loss," said Sandy Martinez-Pino, president of USA Boxing, the national sanctioning body for amateur boxing.
The organization adheres to the same safety requirements for women as it does men: Boxers are required to go through pre- and post-bout physicals and must wear headgear.
A certified doctor also must be ringside at every event, and all bouts are tracked in a "passbook," which records the outcome of the bout and the health of the athlete.
Opponents are matched based on skill and experience in weight classes.
The last death at a USA Boxing event came in February 2001, when heavyweight Quinton Grier died of a heart ailment after a match. Juan Silva III was the last fighter to die as result of in-ring injuries in May 2000.
Overall, boxing ranks eighth in fatality rates for all sports -- 1.3 deaths per 100,000 competitors, according to the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute.
It's still unclear what happened to Zerlentes in her match against Heather Schmitz. Autopsy results are still pending, and Denver police said Tuesday no charges are likely.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.