A graduate of Fort Myers High, Brown recently won her first professional belt. She came back her old Fort Myers PAL club to inspire young fighter.
Nicholas Alvarez, Fort Myers News-Press
It’s no exaggeration to say Tiara Brown has stepped inside the boxing room at a Fort Myers Police Athletic League gym thousands of times.
She was barely a teenager when she started training there in 2001. Although the current PAL boxing room has only been in its current location for two years — long after Brown left for college and became a police officer herself — she’s been there plenty of times to work with and inspire the next generation of fighters.
But Monday’s appearance was special. And not just because of the balloons and cake wishing her a belated birthday after turning 31 on Saturday.
Brown walked into the cramped boxing gym Monday evening as a professional champ for the first time. She carried with her the pink and gold belt she earned two weeks ago by winning the North American Boxing Organization’s super featherweight championship.
“My coach and I, we just knew that all this hard work would pay off,” Brown said. “At the fight, I was in the best shape. I was in the right state of mind, and I got the win.”
Champion at last
A former national and world champion in the amateur ranks, Brown won her first professional belt on May 18. A 2006 graduate of Fort Myers High School, the 31-year-old won the NABO title in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Metropolitan Police Department.
Brown came home this week to meet with the young fighters of the Fort Myers Boxing Academy, which trains at the PAL club near Palm Beach Blvd., before heading to a tournament this weekend. She also was there to see Danilo Diez, 16, an Ida Baker High School student who will fight for a Junior Olympics national championship this month.
On Monday, while nearly 20 boxers trained around her, Brown never stopped smiling as she signed autographs and posed for pictures. She still was riding high after winning her 130-pound bout and running her professional record to 8-0.
The championship was especially sweet because of Brown’s struggles leading up to it. Aside from growing up in a high-crime area of Fort Myers, where her brother was murdered in 2010, Brown has had recent obstacles to overcome while juggling her job and her training.
Brown went to Columbus State University in Georgia on a full scholarship for cross country and track. She got her degree in criminal justice and joined the police department in D.C.
She works four 10-hour shifts a week for the MPD, but in a big city with a high crime rate, she often works overtime. On work days, Brown wakes up at 3 a.m. to train for a few hours before her shift, then trains a few hours once it’s over.
Three weeks before her fight in May, Brown got laryngitis. Two weeks prior, she pulled a muscle in her back. Brown was supposed to fight for an International Boxing Federation Intercontinental title, but her opponent was injured. NABO title-holder Angel Gladney was a last-minute fill-in.
“It was tough,” Brown said. “Boxing isn’t just physical — it’s mental. I had to block out a lot of things I was seeing at work. That’s a really hard thing to do.
“The day of the fight I had all that on my back. But we pushed through that.”
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Role model in the ring
Though her appearance at the PAL club was the first as a pro champ, Brown is no stranger to the young fighters who train there. She has visited them frequently, and director Jose Ojeda holds up Brown as an example of what the boxers can achieve.
Brown fought with the U.S. National Team from 2009-16 before going pro. She won a world title in 2012 and a USA Boxing national title in 2015. In 2016 she narrowly missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
“It gives them the hope and inspiration that, no matter what’s in front of you, if you work hard dreams can come true,” said Ojeda, who started training Brown in 2004. “I always tell the kids the story of Tiara. To see her winning the title belt, to know that she started in the same place they started, that’s a big thing.”
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Diez is very familiar with Brown’s work. He knows her well after many interactions, and he hopes to achieve her level of success. Recently, Diez won state and regional titles in the Junior Olympics. He will fight for the 138-pound super (15-16 year olds) title at Junior Olympics nationals June 22-29 in Madison, Wisconsin.
“When I was 9, I used to see her train,” Diez said. “I used to see her beat up on the guys. It was awesome.”
Ojeda works with anywhere from 10 to 25 kids every afternoon, he said. The boxing club includes children as young as 8 to young adults who are training to become professionals.
The Fort Myers Boxing Academy team is headed to Port Charlotte this weekend to compete in the regionals of the Sugar Bert Boxing tournament.
Fight like a girl
Brown’s story made a special impact on Yesalee Alvarez, the only girl currently on the academy’s team. The 11-year-old seventh grader at Gateway Charter started boxing five months ago and will fight her first match Saturday.
“She inspired me,” Alvarez said. “She told me to keep going, not to have fear.”
Brown’s mission is to inspire the next generation of fighters, especially girls like Alvarez. Some people still think women shouldn’t be fighting, she said, and Brown is out to prove them wrong.
Visiting the PAL club, run by the Fort Myers police department, means more to Brown now that she is an officer. She said she’ll continue to represent her hometown, as well as come back to help, as long as she can.
“To come back to Fort Myers, the 239 — and I shout ‘239!’ everywhere I go — it means the world to me,” Brown said. “To come home and inspire kids who are in the position I was in, growing up in neighborhoods that are not so good, it just means so much.”