At 9:30 p.m. on a night in 2001, 28-year-old, Sonya Lamonakis stopped outside of an ATM in Springfield, Massachusetts. The next few minutes would change her life forever.
Just as she was about to step out of her car to withdraw money from the ATM, two men accosted her.
One of them jumped into the backseat of her car, and held a knife to her throat. The other jumped into the passenger seat and demanded that she hand over all the money she had.
She only had $60 on her, but she could never shake off that feeling of being in that vulnerable position where she was unable to defend herself.
She never informed the police of the crime, but she did confide in her friends.
It was suggested that she take up boxing as a form of self-defense. After one class at a local gym, the South End Community Center, also in the same city, she was hooked.
Earlier this month, Lamonakis defeated four-time world champion Carlette Ewell to win the International Boxing Organization (IBO)’s world female heavyweight title in Philipsburg, Saint Maarten, and in doing so became the number one heavyweight female boxer in the world.
“I busted into tears,” said Lamonakis, recalling her victory. “I was thrilled. This was a prestigious world title, and my first ten-round fight. Beating her was an amazing victory and I was thrilled because all my hard work and discipline paid off.”
But there’s more to Lamonakis than fists of steel. When she’s not schooling opponents in the ring, she’s schooling local kids at the John Ericsson Middle School 126, where she teaches Social Studies to the 7th and 8th graders.
For Lamonakis, who considers herself a teacher foremost and boxing a hobby, the classroom and the ring are a natural synthesis. As a teacher, she’s strict, disciplined and organized – all necessary skills to be a successful boxer, as well.
“I have great relationships with my students and I think that makes a big difference,” said Lamonakis. “I’m very strict and they know when they’re in here its time to get serious. They’ll perform better for me, not because of the boxing or because they feel threatened, but because they want me to be proud of them.”
Her students concur.
“She’s strict but also lets us have fun,” said Joseph Balbuena, an eighth grader in her Social Studies class. “She makes history so much more fun, but outside of schoolwork, her discipline and the way she is with us in class will help us when we’re looking for jobs.”
Lamonakis has worked as a teacher since her early twenties. She taught at M.S. 301 in the Bronx, after moving to New York from Springfield in 2005 to further her boxing career.
She’s had a storied boxing record in New York since. She won the Golden Gloves championships four years in a row (2006-2009), the first woman in history to achieve that feat. And earlier this year she lifted the heavyweight title in New York.
Lamonakis says she’s lucky that she’s really committed to her work as a teacher. For most female boxers, having a professional occupation apart from playing the sport is a necessity.
“Floyd Mayweather banks $30 million, I bank $3000,” said Lamonakis, lamenting the pay disparity and the lack of respect female boxers have in the field. “It’s a man-dominated sport that I’m in. It’s much more difficult as a woman.”
But Lamonakis has the backing of Promoter Lou DiBella, who has represented boxing stars like Sergio Gabriel Martinez, Jermain Taylor, and Bernard Hopkins.
It’s still a perplexing matter for Lamonakis who trains for two hours six days a week, and puts in just the amount of effort the men do, if not more. She blames it on a lack of education in the sport, and failure of channels like HBO and Showtime to feature female boxers on their performance tickets.
“Women don’t get the limelight as much as the men do unfortunately,” said Lamonakis. “What they don’t realize is that every time women fight we usually end up stealing the show because we are not fighting for the bank, we are fighting from our heart, we are fighting for the glory.”
But she’s tired of the politicking for the moment. She just wants to put her feet up. She doesn’t have to defend her title for at least a year.
“I’m going to enjoy the holidays with my family and then I’ll think about lining up a world title fight,” said Lamonakis.