Terri Lowe sobbed in a corner of a conference room that served as a communal locker room for boxing bouts at a suburban Sacramento hotel.
She tried to hide her tears from the other boxers. "I'm so embarrassed," she said between sobs.
The 42-year-old had just finished her first professional fight and it hadn't gone well. Less than a minute into the third round against Maricela Cornejo, a 26-year-old boxer from Las Vegas, the referee stepped between the middleweights, waved his hand and signaled the end of the match: a technical knockout.
"He called it too soon," Lowe said after the November fight.
The match had started out well enough, with the boxers trading equally fierce jabs. But things fell apart in the second round. Lowe seemed to tire and Cornejo took the opportunity to rain a parade of punches on her head.
Some may say it's not the right place for a kindergarten teacher.
Monday through Friday mornings Lowe reports to a classroom decorated with teapots, daisies and beetles. Rows of cubbies line the wall and yellow school buses emblazoned with the alphabet hang from the ceiling.
She teaches 24 kindergartners at Foulks Ranch Elementary School in Elk Grove, Calif., to spell, count on their fingers and play well together.
"The best part about being a kindergarten teacher is that everything to a 5- to 6-year-old is magic," Lowe said. "It makes me smile every single day."
Lowe admits that her two passions - teaching and boxing - are a paradox. "I'm a different person in kindergarten class," Lowe said. "But when I get in the ring. ..."
After watching Lowe's class, it is clear that teaching a few dozen 5-year-old children can require as much stamina as fighting in a boxing ring.
During a class in August, Lowe exhibited fast footwork as she moved between tables of students working on projects designed to teach them to count, work together and follow rules.
She bobbed and weaved as she deftly corralled students wandering away from their work stations, while tying macaroni necklaces, patting students on the back, answering questions and demonstrating how to trace the number 5.
"Nathan, if you need help with that you will have to ask for it," Lowe said to one student.
"Let's try it again. Can you say 'Can you please excuse me?'" she asked another student.
In the classroom, the 18-year teaching veteran looks nothing like the fighter who stepped into the red, white and blue ring on Nov. 17, dressed in black shorts and shiny red halter that allowed a tattoo of a cartoon-style female boxer to peek out. On this day in August at Foulks Ranch she is wearing a gray skirt, a black shirt and sensible flats. Her hair is swept up neatly with barrettes.
"Everybody have a seat on the floor, not the ceiling, on the floor," sings Lowe, as her students gather around her for a lesson.
It's a world away from the thumping rap music, scantily clad ring girls and sweat that is the boxing circuit. During last weekend's fights, emergency medical technicians flanking a stretcher filled with medical gear were a stark reminder of the dangers of the ring.
Lowe's bout was the first professional match of the night. It followed a card of three amateur fights.
Lowe was paid $500.
After the fight, a doctor checked Lowe out in an adjacent hallway. A few minutes later, a boxing official appeared in the locker room with a form that required her signature. It said she couldn't box for 45 days - standard practice after a knockout.
"I'll box again," she said.
She was nervous before the bout, explained her trainer Marcus Reaves of LA Boxing in Sacramento. "She "didn't follow the game plan. She went out there and got all excited."
Lowe said she let the size of her competitor get inside her head. "She was huge," Lowe said. "She wasn't even the person I weighed in with Friday."
A few days after the fight Lowe was feeling positive and reflective despite two black eyes, facial bruising and sore muscles. By boxing before the Thanksgiving break, Lowe gave her injuries a chance to heal before she returned to school. Her students had been prepared just in case. They and their parents were told months ago about Lowe's boxing career and the possibility she could come back to class battered and bruised.
"I asked them if they have seen 'Rocky,'" Lowe said of her conversations with the children. "I explained it and showed them my hand wraps."
Lowe considers her loss a lesson. "I probably learned more from this loss then she will from her win," she said of her opponent.
She expects to use her newfound knowledge in February when she will meet Cornejo in a rematch - an agreement made before the Nov. 17 fight. The fight will be part of a reality TV show featuring Cornejo, Lowe said.
It's been a long road for the boxer. Lowe started training at LA Boxing five years ago after driving by and seeing the sign. "I said 'This is what I want to do. I want to fight.' "
Lowe weighed 215 at the time, a heavyweight. She works out and spars at the gym four to six days a week, mostly with men.
Now a 154-pound middleweight, Lowe is the top female boxer at her gym and the first woman trained there to turn professional.
She brushes aside any questions about her age. "I can outlast those 10 years younger than me," she said.
The fighter turned pro in August after landing just one amateur fight, which she won.
It was difficult to find amateur fights because opponents must be within 10 years of age. Because professionals don't have that rule, she decided to go that route.
Lowe's husband, David, their two children and a small group of co-workers were in the audience to watch her long-awaited pro debut.
"I see her every day with 5-year-olds - sweet and nice - and I've seen her all geared up and ready to go, but I haven't seen her fight," said Julie Sandison, who shares a kindergarten classroom with Lowe at Foulks Ranch Elementary.
Sharon Hamlin, a colleague, called the teacher a role model who shows girls they can be tough. "Someday this will inspire them to be like her," Hamlin said.
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