PORTLAND – Liz Leddy’s hands moved quickly and purposefully around the head of the person in front of her. Her left led with a comb, her right wielded the scissors that cut. There was a touch of irony to the scene and Leddy knew it.
By day she works to make her clients look good. At night, sometimes, she works harder to make opponents look bad. She’s a hairdresser and a champion amateur fighter. A passionate 31-year-old with a quick smile who can quote poets or philosophers.
Leddy won her second women’s Golden Gloves national title in early June and almost immediately went back to her chair at Custom Cut, a small, two-person salon in Portland. Almost as quickly, she returned to training at the Portland Boxing Club with her coach, Bob Russo.
“I love where I am in my life,” she said Saturday. “But I don’t feel like I’m the finished product. I want to be perfect.”
The second Golden Gloves championship belt sits on a small upholstered bench in front of her work space. To someone else it might be a bittersweet reminder. Leddy’s dream was to fight in the 2012 Olympics in London. But only three weight classes will be contested by women — 112, 132 and 165 pounds — as opposed to 10 by men. Competition was fierce and Leddy didn’t make the cut. One goal not reached.
“I could train for 2016,” said Leddy. “I would be a much more polished fighter. I could turn pro, too.”
Fighting as a professional is the highest rung on a short ladder. It’s difficult for Russo to match Leddy in amateur bouts in New England, especially after she wins championships. The pool of amateur female opponents isn’t large. It’s even smaller in pro boxing.
“Is there a hotbed for women? Where is it?” Leddy would uproot from the surroundings that nurtured her as a recovering alcoholic and budding hairdresser and boxer. She hasn’t forgotten dropping out of school and leaving home to sleep on the couches of friends in the Portland area.
Chase Olympic gold in four years or chase pro titles. Leddy hasn’t decided.
Her past has made her fearless but not immune to self-doubt. She won the 2011 Golden Gloves title fighting in the 125-pound class. She moved up to 132 this year. She’s 5-foot-6 and most of her opponents have height and reach advantages.
Leddy counters with what she calls her creativity in the ring. She has some power behind her punches, but even more, she keeps her head. Her quick hands and feet work in tandem with her quick mind.
Leddy’s opponent in last month’s championship bout was taller. “Going in, all of a sudden I had massive self-doubt. She was a southpaw. She had some good angles. I was putting leather on her and by the last round she didn’t have the same pop in her punches.”
As Leddy waited in the center of the ring to hear the judges’ decision, she wondered if she had won. She dropped to her knees when she heard her name and gave thanks.
“The first time, I jumped into the air saying something like, ‘I’ve done it.’ This time felt like, for a moment, I was at the crossroads.” All her paths had led to this victory. That moment was an affirmation that everything had turned out right in her life.
A couple of trophies and gold medals along with the title belt are the only other signs that someone other than a hairdresser is present. She has about 15 steady clients in addition to walk-ins. She’s not sure any of them have watched her fight in Portland.
“I haven’t,” said Jeremy Young of Freeport, who’s sat in Leddy’s chair for three years. “I like the Liz I see here. Sometimes it seems I come in because I need to talk to her more than getting my hair cut. I know she’s good but I don’t think I could see her getting hit. Or hurt.”
Saturday morning, Leddy said she almost killed herself in a workout and then rushed to Custom Cut.
“I don’t always have time to paint my nails or make sure my hair is right. Keeping up the image of what our culture wants to see in a hairdresser can be tough.”
Her smile widens. She sees a chiropractor, but not for what fighting does to her body. Her day job is taking a toll.
“It’s the standing all day, holding my arms and hands above my heart. It’s my spine, my hips and all my blood in my ankles at the end of the day. Worrying about carpal tunnel. But I love cutting hair. I love talking to people.”
Young got his cut and shampoo — Leddy can use a straight razor for a shave, too — and made his next appointment before walking out the door. “How about the 28th?” he asked Leddy. She looked at her appointment book. “Well, I’m actually going to be boxing in Massachusetts. I’ve got another day for you.”
Done. Leddy sat down. The woman who goes a mile a minute had time for a break.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: