Answering the bell: Mia St. John's final bout
By DANIEL CASAREZ
Vida en el Valle/McClatchy News
(Published Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 11:47AM)
FRESNO Mía Rosales St. John's glamorous smile masks dark memories of a troubled past of hunger, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and mental anguish that nearly ended her life.
Five months ago, her mother, María Elena Socorro Rosales, died from lung cancer. She was always in Mía's corner throughout her boxing matches.
"This will actually be the first fight without her, and it's heartbreaking. But, I don't feel like she's gone," said Rosales St. John as she prepares for an Aug. 14 bout against Christy Martin at Table Mountain Casino.
"I feel like she's here, and she's watching over me. And, she'd be very proud of me," said Rosales St. John, who has won three international boxing titles.
The 45-year-old San Francisco native, however, does not define her life by a 15-year professional boxing career in which she has built a 46-11-2 (18 KO) record and become one of the sport's best-known female.
Her upcoming bout against Martin (49-6-3, 31 KO) will be her last.
Rosales St. John -- who was married to soap opera star Kristoff St. John -- has raised son Julián, 22, and daughter Paris, 20. She earned a degree in psychology from California State University, Northridge in 1994.
Her earlier struggles with homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction inspired her to create the 'El Saber Es Poder' (Knowledge is Power) foundation, which helps Latinos in the United States and México.
She has also become a leading advocate of federal legislation authored by Congresswoman Janet Napolitano, D-Norwalk, that would provide more funds for mental health therapy in schools.
"I applaud Mía for having the courage to step forward and speak about mental health. Her bravery does tremendous good for all of the youngsters who look up to her," said Napolitano. "Mía's support for the Mental Health in Schools Act continues to help the many youth who desperately need someone to give them a helping hand."
Rosales St. John could have benefited from such help.
"It was my lowest point in my life: I was homeless. I was 17, 18 in Los Angeles. And I ran away from home. That's what I did," said Rosales St. John.
"I've suffered from mental health issues. I've been hospitalized."
Photo info: Mia St. John poses for this photo in 2006. Robin Leedy & Associates.
Her father, Duncan Richardson, whom she says she loves, taught her taekwondo. But, he left the family when she was about 12.
Rosales St. John had relied on her mother, a native of Zacatecas, México, to start and power the foundation. Mother and daughter helped send computers and Internet hookup in 2008 to Barrio La Cantera in Zacatecas, México.
Last year, Rosales St. John's foundation spearheaded The Knockout Workout, a program that focuses on improving the health of young Latinos and their families at El Centro del Pueblo in Echo Park in East Los Ángeles.
"My whole life is a complete 180. I have 23, almost 24, years sober. I went back to school, graduated from college, got married, had kids, and turned pro," said Rosales St. John, who began her boxing career with a knockout that earned her the nickname 'The Knockout.'
"I'm always thinking now with sobriety, so anything and everything is possible. You just have to stay sober," she said.
Rosales St. John and Martin are no strangers to each other. The Aug. 14 'Final Victory' bout will be a rematch of a 2002 fight that Martin won.
Photo info: Christy Martin works out with kids at Aleman Boxing Club in Fresno in July.
The rematch was postponed earlier this year because Martin was a witness in a June trial against her husband, James Martin, who was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison for attempted murder after stabbing and shooting Christy.
Boxing promoter Roy Englebrecht said the mutual respect the fighters have for each is commendable, but the adversity each has overcome is amazing.
"In everyday life, to come back from everything these ladies have gone through, and just to live a normal life is extraordinary," said Englebrecht.
These two ladies are true American heroes and American success stories. Just what they have gone through, and to come out on top; most people would have come out on the bottom."
Fighters like Rosales St. John, Martin and Laila Ali, daughter of heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali, are the few successful females that have earned lucrative salaries from boxing.
Martin's popularity and success earned her a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1996, while Rosales St. John was a model and posed for Playboy in 1999.
Rosales St. John defends her Playboy pictorial. "If David Beckham can take off his clothes, then I can too."
Many of Rosales St. John's bouts were televised and featured in the undercard of popular boxing events that included Óscar De La Hoya. She has fought at New York City's Madison Square Garden and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Internationally, she has fought in China, Germany, Canada and México City.
At a recent promotional stop in Fresno, Rosales St. John praised Martin for her courage throughout the trial and career. She joked with fans.
"Which magazine cover would you like to see?"
She later explained, "You can't be a normal-functioning person and be in this ring. If you're in the ring, you're crazy, period."
Rosales St. John was a taekwondo champion when she signed with boxing promoter Don King in 1997.
Some saw St. John as a trinket on the fight cards.
Photo info: Socorro Rosales in 2003 in Fresno. Vida en el Valle.
"The people managing them didn't take them seriously," said former pro boxer Frank Alemán, who operates Alemán Boxing Club in Fresno.
St. John and Martin signed autographs and worked out with young boxers at Alemán Boxing Club last month.
"(Mía) was a person on the undercard to get people to buy tickets. The promoters limited her to four rounds, but as she went on, she got more serious. She's a tough girl with a lot of fight," added Alemán.
Next month, St. John will speak on Latino youth suicide prevention at the Mental Health Summit presented by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Summit in Florida.
"I did what I could to survive (when homeless). I had just finally said, 'I'm going to kill myself. I'm either going to die or I'm going to get help.' There was just a little bit of self-preservation left in me. It said, I'm going to get help, and that's what I did. I chose to live," she said.
"What I did in boxing wasn't significant. I was a boxer. I beat the (expletive) out of people for a living. I accomplished that, but now I need to move on to more significant things. The bill and my foundation is much more significant."
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