Let me get this out of the way, straight up. She’s not the best fighter lacing up gloves today. She’s not destined to be a Hall of Famer, and it will be hard climb to get to a place where she’s headlining shows in big rooms. Sure, part of that is because she is a she, and female boxing is in a bit of a doldrums. But Heather Hardy, subject of the new documentary “Hardy,” which ran today at the NYC DOC festival and will run at the “Shadow Box” fest next month, undoubtedly deserves to get the filmic treatment, and deserves, if we factor in karma, to play on bigger stages, and have her story relayed, further and wider and with exceeding respect and admiration.
“Hardy,” executive produced by her boxing promoter, Lou Dibella, and his company BK Blu tells of a 32-year-old woman with an 11-0 (2 KOs) mark, who grew up in a rough and tumble section of Brooklyn called Gerritsen Beach. This is the sort of place which, if you want to be sort of stark and tactless, you could argue you escape from as much as move away from…and the movie explains why she deserves a second glance, and contemplation and appreciation of, even if you aren’t into watching women fight.
I spoke to Dibella about the film and the woman, who, it is clear, is the definition of a FIGHTER in all senses of the word to the combustible and charismatic fight promoter. “The takeaway from the film is that people will come away from it amazed at how much she’s gone through. It’s no accident why she’s a fighter! There are a lot of demons, and darkness and tragedy and obstacles she’s dealt with,” DiBella told me.
Indeed; Hardy doesn’t shy from admitting the hurdles she’s climbed and has to deal with to this day. Sexual abuse scarred her, but she dealt with it head on, and isn’t afraid to share her story, in a bid to minimize stigma, let other souls know that yes, it happens, and yes, you can fight on, keep punching, maybe get knocked to the mat, but dammit, you can get up and get your hand raised. “Heather is an Arturo Gatti, Micky Ward type fighter,” the promoter told me, respect clearly paramount in his tone.
And like those humble warriors, Hardy's charisma stems largely from her humility. It is totally endearing, as when she told me that yes, she’d be hitting a premiere party for the flick but without an excess of positive anticipation. “I will go to the premiere but I’m not totally pleased about wearing a dress,” said the super bantam, who gloves up Dec. 3 on a Dibella show in NYC. “I will probably wear fancy Nike tights, with a nice jacket to cover up that I’m not wearing a fancy dress,” she told me.
A bit of background; Hardy’s house was washed away in hurricane Sandy two years ago, and that was a mere bullet point of what she’s dealt with. The man she knew as her dad wasn’t her real dad, she learned as a young teen, and you can learn more details when you see the film.
“Regarding admitting the abuse, the idea is through the film to reach people, to help them know that they can live through unpleasant experiences, that happened to me too, and they can turn it into a positive,” Hardy told me. “Women should see the film as empowering, and I like that it helps show that you can use boxing to help regain self esteem, self worth.”
I’m with Hardy there, in that I think and I know we in the sport can and must do a better job at sharing the upsides to the sport, and peoples’ participation in it. The net positive, all the kids taken off the streets, and fashioned into functioning members of society, rather than human wreckage and carnage-makers, is a no brainer to me…yet our press focuses on downsides, on bad actors, on long term damage…because that is the sexier and easier story to tell.
Verma, a news anchor and repoter in Fort Meyers, Florida, deserves props for recognizing the worth of Hardy’s message. She met Hardy at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, when Heather was homeless after Sandy wreaked havoc. “There was a raw and honest feel to her,” the film-maker told me. She’d like to give women’s boxing a hand up, help start a conversation about these hitters’ appeal to viewers and potential to make an impact on the premium networks. “I want viewers to watch and to be inspired and motivated, I want there to be some awareness of gender equality and inequality in the world as a whole. She got knocked down so many times, but she said I’m gonna make it, she came from really tough hood in Brooklyn, she dealt with misfortume and flipped it to her favor. She wants to get something done, she gets it done,” Verma said. “In Rocky I, the way people left the theater fired up, and shadow boxing, that’s what I want to viewers to feel! Then I know my job has been done.”
I was curious to know if Hardy wakes up these days, snaps her eyes open, and wonders first thought if this is all a dream.
“Not really,” she said. “Because this was not acting, it was just cameras following me. But I think the material is worth sharing, because not a lot of people get out of Gerritsen Beach. And if I can hit someone who feels stuck in s–t, that she can do it… I didn’t have money, I was just was focused. Gerritsen is working class, people get stuck in a nine to five, and they wake up, and they can’t wait to go to sleep. And they wait around for their parents to die so they move into their house. A lot of people float thru life and I didn’t want float.”
OK, can we unpack that? That hit of truth is more direct, and impactful, and candid and useful than you can derive from ten hours of talk therapy. That is why, I confess, I would like to see maybe a reality TV producer latch on this character, because she is so accessible, and low-key likeable and is a potent role model. This doc might just do the trick hint hint hint in that area.