I have been photographing the Northstar Roller Derby league for a few years now and have become well acquainted with many of the wonderful people in it. A lot of times though derby is a world unto itself and there aren't many intersections in the day to day life.
So you can imagine when I learned that Jennifer "Irish Frisky" Leeson an NSRD official and ER nurse at HCMC, was going to be fighting in the seventh annual Unite and Fight charity boxing event, I knew I had to be there to show my support.
"Unite + Fight" is a great annual charity boxing event where local first responders, (your Police Officers, Firefighters, and ER nurses), come together to support one of their own who is in crisis.
This year's recipient is Officer Emily Krob of Brooklyn Park. She actually competed in Unite + Fight in 2013 and 2015. She was diagnosed with a rare soft tissue cancer called, rhabdomyosarcoma, and is currently undergoing treatment.
The event was set to take place at the Uppercut Boxing Gym in Northeast Minneapolis. This wouldn't be a Minnesota story if the weather wasn't involved in the overall experience of the night. And true to form it was.
Warmer temperatures combined with plenty of mostly freezing rain made for a slushie slippery mess to get through. Things transitioned to heavy snow just as the doors opened at 5:30 and it was expected to go all night.
I was meeting with another Derby friend and Frisky's husband at Uppercut. Once we had all arrived we made our way to our seats in the blue corner and talked with Frisky before the event started.
"Do you think a lot of people will come?" We asked Frisky. "I think so." She said. "They are all first responders, so they would be out in this anyway, we still have to go to work so it's not like we would miss this."
"How do you feel about your fight, are you excited?" We asked. "I'm trying not to throw up." She said. "Part of me doesn't think it's really going to happen, I am over here pacing, I can't sit still." "Greta is just sitting over there with this focused look on her face."
Greta is Frisky's opponent tonight and as luck would have it she is one of Frisky's coworkers. "It is kinda weird waiting around to fight someone you work with. It's not like I am fighting someone I don't know." Frisky said. "She is tough and is probably going to win but I am going to do my best."
With a few more words of encouragement and a hug from her husband, Frisky went back to the fighters area and we waited for the event to start.
As the announcer introduced Officer Emily Krob to the ring the now packed gym erupted in cheers and applause for her. She is a tough woman, an officer and a fighter herself but even she was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support from the first responder community.
Frisky was the seventh fight of the night. Each fight was three one minute rounds.
The action in the ring was relentless. I had joked before the first fight that I was wondering how hard everyone was going to go. This was a charity event, so was it going to be a, "Hey let's all have fun, we still have to make our next shift" kind of a thing?
That silly question was answered seconds into the first round of the first fight. These folks came to compete. With only three minutes each, everyone was giving it all they had.
With no time to dance these amateur fighters threw themselves fist first into the maelstrom. Coming in fast and swinging hard it was clear that the nine-week fight camp prior to the event had paid off, with some fights ending early due to a technical knock out.
Then it was Frisky's turn. Her opponent, Greta, fighting out of the red corner entered the ring first. It was immediately clear why Frisky had said she was nervous. Greta is a good head and a half taller than Frisky and strong. But any nerves Frisky might have been feeling as she entered the ring were gone; hidden under headgear and adrenaline.
The bell rang and the two good-natured coworkers weren't friends anymore. Greta started in strong, charging across the ring on the offensive. Frisky did her best throwing counter punches, dodging and circling out of the intensity of the attack. She kept things moving and made herself a slippery target.
The second and third rounds were the same. Greta on the offensive charging in, Frisky, holding fast and standing her ground. The action was frenzied and intense, Greta is a beast of a fighter.
After a flurry of punches from both sides, the referee separated the two combatants and gave frisky a standing eight count, checking in to see if she still had the faculties to continue on. She did and the fight continued. Drawing to a close at the third round bell. In a unanimous decision by the judges, Greta had won the fight.
At intermission, I had another chance to talk to Frisky and congratulate her on fighting hard and putting on a great show. "I came in second!" She said holding up her Unite + Fight medal. "Greta is a beast, but I accomplished what I wanted to do. I hung in there all three rounds and I didn't give up." She said.
"She really hits hard, there were a few times my world went black for a second and when the referee was asking me if I wanted to continue, in my head I was saying, no, but my mouth was saying, YES!" "I had a few people congratulate me on my energy and spirit, they said I did great!" She said.
And it was true, Frisky fought hard and even though she didn't win she never gave up or backed down. It was so inspiring to see someone literally transition from never having boxed before to a fighter who can go three rounds, take some really hard shots and never give up.
After that I said my goodbyes to Frisky and her husband and headed home, hoping to avoid getting stuck in the snow.
This event is a shining example of the quality and character of the first responders we are fortunate enough to have in our community. People who are willing to work hard and sacrifice to help lift each other up. I am so glad I was able to be there to help support a friend and witness a good cause.
If you would like to help support Officer Emily Krob you can donate to her go fund me HERE.
If you would like to learn more about Unite and Fight click HERE.
If you want to learn more about boxing at Uppercut gym you can click HERE.
If you would like to see Irish Frisky in her NSO roll for the Northstar Roller Derby you can come to cheer her on at the next NSRD bout Saturday, March 23rd.
Please enjoy the rest of my photos from the Unite + Fight event below!