By Alyssa Shapiro
Stephanie Sollers, founder of the book club Omo Together and co-founder of Lobos Boxing Club, had worked in advertising for over seven years, building and running sales teams in jobs that had her on a plane constantly—so much so that her apartment housed only an air mattress and a desk chair. “It was constantly being out, going to get drinks, having dinner, traveling from city to city,” she says. Realizing something had to change, Sollers reset her priorities, took her physical wellness into her own control, and shifted the course of her life in a healthful direction. She told To The People about her experience becoming an amateur boxer in her 20s, and what it was like getting into the ring.
What was the turning point for you?
I remember one morning I woke up and kind of like looked at my face in the mirror. No amount of makeup was going to change how I felt right then, which was so tired. I felt puffy, and really, really gross. So really that day I made a decision to change how we entertain clients, and got my team on board.
We were like, “Alright, cool. January’s right around the corner. We’re going to take clients to fitness events.” That’s just what we’re going to do ,and every day, pretty much, we were going to do something different. There was spinning, boxing, yoga, barre class.
In all the other classes, you could still keep your composure and be your professional self; there was still a border on who you were when you were with your clients. When it came to boxing, because it was so new, it was so physical, it was really hard, and it was the first space where when I walked into the boxing gyms, everyone was equal. It didn't matter whether somebody was a client, or I was their boss—all of those relationships just completely disappeared right away.
I feed on that kind of energy. The piece that kept me into boxing was the community. Boxing is a lot to commit to. You start to recognize that if people are going to commit to their body, their health, and put themselves in a somewhat precarious situation, they really respect themselves and they respect their opponents in a true martial arts way. You can't half-ass boxing. If you don't run and stay in shape outside of the ring, the second you walk in, you're exposed. You can't fake it.
How old were you when you first stepped into a boxing gym?
It was in my twenties. I've learned an inviting boxing gym is a unique place because you kind of have to earn your right to walk in, to wear the gloves. All of the stuff that they talked about with boxing, where you walk into a gym and you can feel intimidated and leave, is very true.
What do you have to do to earn the right to be there?
I maybe take it a little bit too seriously; I feel like I have to actually have a fight to feel like I'm a boxer. That’s my personal feeling, I know that’s not necessarily the reality. Like 10 years ago, I ran a half-marathon and I ran every day. One of my thoughts was, “Am I a runner now? Because I run every day.” At what point am I this? That’s something I’ve always struggled with, being able to figure out how to define or be defined.
Now, I think you can be a lot of things and you don’t have to prove anything to be a boxer. I think you just have to box and have the right mentality of giving it a hundred percent—being committed, being dedicated, showing up.
When you had your first big fight at Haymakers in New York last year, can you describe how you felt as you walked into the ring?
It was the craziest feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’d wanted to fight for a long time. I wanted to be in Haymakers the year before. This was the second moment of boxing that made me want to fight.
I lost my cousin and mentor to cancer, and I’d been questioning why I was fighting. All of these questions that I had pointed to fighting in Haymakers for Hope, which raises money for organizations supporting people who have been affected by cancer in some way. Once I found this thing, I was like, “This is it. This is what I’m going to work towards. This is everything.” Every day was really building towards that.
I found this fight, I started training towards it, and I actually ended up leaving my job in advertising so that I could be super focused. It just was eyes on the prize. Right around that time, I was training so much that I hurt my Achilles. I had left my job; the last week I was at the company, the fight organization was like, “we couldn’t find anyone to match with you, so you won’t be a part of Haymakers this year.” It was all the same week.
I was really down about it. But boxing is not supposed to be easy. No part of the journey is supposed to be easy. Almost anything that you want in life is actually not supposed to be easy. This is the test: how bad do you want something?
I went to physical therapy, kept trying to train, even went to Cuba to box. I went to Bali so I could box. I stayed consistent as much as possible. The following year, when I got into this fight, I trained for four months, every single day. Everyone I knew knew that I was training for this, so that was additional pressure.
The moment was the night before the fight, when I made weight. I was so nervous. That was the scariest part—knowing there’s a number you have to make the day of, and I was eight pounds up the day before.
I had really phenomenal coaches, Eddie and Kai, with me in New York getting me there. I sat in a bathtub of hot water for 45 minutes, nearly fainting, coming out of that sweating. I could barely stand when I stood on the scale finally and saw that I had hit 140 pounds, which is what I needed to be to fight. I completely burst into tears.
That moment for me was the you did it moment. I could look back at those four months of training and go, “Not a single day went by where I didn't do a hundred percent of what I could do that day to be better.” You couldn’t take anything away from me at that moment, even though it was before walking into the ring.
Can you describe making weight and why that's important?
Boxing as a sport uses weight classes for matching opponents. It's a way to make sure that there's a safe window of size between two fighters. If I'm 140 pounds, they're not going to put me into the ring with someone who's 170 pounds because, just by size, they would have an advantage and that would not be safe.
Depending upon the organization, there can be a spread of ten pounds, eight pounds, seven pounds. It just depends on whether it's amateur or professional and what you agree upon with your opponent. When they matched us, my opponent was under 140 pounds and I was 158 pounds to start. They asked us to meet at 140 pounds. I had two months to get to the exact weight that I needed to be. I had put on 45 pounds when I hurt my Achilles the year before. It was really, really tough watching what you're eating as you're increasing your training for several hours.
I knew I could train every day. That's easy for me. I know I can get up and I can make sure to go to the gym every single day. And if you want me to go twice, that's fine.
But losing 18 pounds in that amount of time while training... you can't just skip a meal. You have to eat to maintain energy, so everything ends up being tracked by the hour. You have to increase your water intake to two gallons, there’s a science to it. I had Kai who helped me with not getting injured, nutrition, and making sure that I was going to make weight when it came down to that Thursday night at 5:00 p.m. when I weighed in.
Has having that control over your weight, being so precise, training so hard, maintaining your health through all of that changed your relationship with your body at all?
I think it's made it really difficult. When you're so focused on the goal, nothing else matters. It becomes every decision. I had no alcohol, no sugar. I actually had two glasses of wine at the midpoint on September 8th.
I heard this quote that's like “champions have no choice,” and it's true.There is literally a decision that helps you and there's a decision that hurts you.
I’d imagine that being so precise with your food and training probably made your quality of sleep better and made your health better and just overall made you feel better. Is that something that carries weight now, even though you don't have a fight that you're working for, just knowing how you feel when you're at your peak state?
If I were training specifically for how I looked, I'd be having salads all the time and doing Pilates and that's fine, but I wouldn't be able to last three minutes in a round. If I was training for performance, that's a very different type of training. When I say training, I mean, all of it—sleep nutrition, going to the gym, all of that stuff. And I think where I'm at right now is trying to figure out where I fit, because how I feel is probably where I need to be. However, you know, with the world right now, and access to gyms… You know, food is fun. And I'm trying to think, you know, how do I feel? It’s not just about my physical, but my emotional wellbeing.
Beginning training seriously for a sport in your mid to late twenties is pretty atypical. Did you feel intimidated starting a sport?
I wish I found boxing earlier. However, I don't think I was mature enough at a younger age to respect the sport the way that it needed to be respected. Had I tried when I was in my early twenties, I think I would have been distracted and unable to dedicate myself in the way that is necessary to actually do it right. And so for me, in terms of finding the sport at a later age versus a younger age, sure, there would have been advantages had I started when I was younger, but my level of maturity and commitment would not have been there that I maybe would not have lasted.
What would you tell someone who feels intimidated by any sport now, but it's considering getting into something?
Do the pre-work to understand how important it is to you in any goal setting. If you can identify and isolate that goal as the single most important thing to you, or one of the two or three, and prioritize that, that should actually provide clarity on your actions, your time, and your dedication. If you know something's that important to you, nothing will stop you.
But if you don't know it's important to you, small moments and excuses will get in your way and potentially allow that narrative, things like, “These other people have 10 years more experience than I do,” to become the driving factor. Someone's always going to have more experience than you do in everything. For the voice in your head that you hear the most, sit down and understand where that voice is coming from. What's your priority? What are your goals? Once you identify that goal and you have clarity, every decision that you make or every feeling can be assigned towards, will this enhance my goals or will this diminish my goals?
When I was younger, I mean, I was either skinny or I was big, but I wasn't muscular in the way that I finally was able to be with boxing. That partly due to age, partly due to maturity, consistency on a plan. In terms of health, I feel that we're seeing a lot more super, super healthy fit people at older and older ages, because we're more educated on ways to take care of ourselves.
How would you categorize your involvement in boxing?
I am a USA boxing registered amateur fighter. I have three fights, and was supposed to have the California State Golden Gloves Tournament. I carry my USA boxing book that says my weigh-ins and the results of the fights in my wallet, just like anyone needs to know.
Boxing is not about aggression for me. It's literally about learning something and that you can always learn more and you can always get better. And that is definitely a motto across my life. How can I be better? How can I learn more? How can I apply myself? How can I perform better?
For boxing, I always wanted to outbox my competitor, never did I come into it saying, I want to, you know, knock them out. I want to look like I know what I'm doing. I want people to watch and be like, “Oh, this fluidity in motion, she's dancing in there.”
Teach me everything, show me all of this stuff so that I can bob and weave and get out of the way and pivot. That was the beauty. And the driving force was truly the application of learning, not the pure brute force of it.