Before 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, Alicia Doyle was knocking them out in the ring.
Now, the former Wheat Ridge girl and Everitt Middle School alum is knocking out book critics with her autobiography, “Fighting Chance,” and gearing up for the next chapter in an inspiring life.
Doyle moved to Wheat Ridge from California with her family in 1971. A self-described “latch-key kid” and child of a rough divorce, Doyle says her fondest memories of her time in Jeffco are of how safe she felt it was ... and the snow.
“I miss the four seasons in Colorado,” she says. “There was a lake near my house that would freeze over in the wintertime, and we would ice skate on the lake.”
Her family eventually moved back to California, landing in Chatsworth, a Los Angeles suburb in the San Fernando Valley.
“When we left Colorado, I left behind everything I knew,” Doyle says. “It was very difficult because I was really close to my father, and I had to leave him.”
She said a gnarly custody battle between her parents and having to leave her father, made things rough — and being the only mixed-race student in her all-white class didn’t make things any easier.
“I was also that fat kid in school, so, that made things even harder,” she says. “With that, and the divorce, there just wasn’t a lot of comfort in my home life. But I look back on all of those hard times — I’m strong now because of those things that I had to survive.”
After graduating from Chatsworth High School, Doyle found herself studying journalism at Los Angeles Pierce College. She eventually landed a coveted gig with the Los Angeles Times.
Other reporting jobs in San Diego and L.A. followed. Next up was a gig at the Ventura County Star where an assignment to write a story about a boxing gym changed the young writer’s life.
El Niño rains had been bad that year. The gym, Kid Gloves Boxing, had been destroyed by floodwater. Before the rains, it had served at-risk youth, many facing serious problems — parents in jail or under house arrest — some of the kids themselves, under house arrest. Some were in gangs.
Doyle said the gym was the only safe environment many of the kids knew.
Not a fan of boxing, she said she reluctantly accepted the assignment with all sorts of preconceived notions about Robert Ortiz, the owner of the gym.
“I just assumed he’d be a jerk — a womanizer. I was wrong about all of it,” she said. “The minute I met this man and saw the size of his heart, I knew there was more to the story.”
Ortiz told her “The one thing I always tell these kids is never give up. So, now I’ve got to practice what I preach.”
He had taken out two mortgages on his home to build the gym, and it had all been destroyed. The story hit home with Doyle, and she spent two months reporting on Ortiz’s efforts to rebuild.
“I had a chance to talk to these children about how boxing had changed their lives. It had healed them — boxing — this thing I had thought was so violent and dark,” she said.
It made her wonder if it could help her as well. Because no one knew it at the time, but Doyle had been in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend.
She said when she broke things off with him, the abuse became physical.
“He punched me in the face with a closed fist more than once,” she said.
The episode had left her “ashamed, embarrassed, angry that she had allowed herself to be treated that way.”
The next day she went to the boxing gym because she said she was so angry that all she wanted to do was hit something. She said after hitting a heavy bag for an hour, she felt better.
“In that hour, all of that pain and rage and shame that I felt, was gone,” she said. “I went back the next day, and the next, and the next. And before I knew it, I was taking two to three aerobic boxing classes every day, five days a week.”
Doyle said eventually the aerobic classes weren’t enough, and she wanted to learn some real boxing skills. She watched the trainers and pros at the gym and copied their moves. Before long, she started getting attention from the coaches.
“So, this coach approaches me, his name is Stan Ward — he asked me if I’d ever considered competing and informed me that at the time, there were only about 400 women in America boxing,” she said.
She agreed to give it a shot and soon, she was in the ring fighting for real.
She was 28 years old at the time — an advanced age for anyone to enter competitive fighting. But she didn’t let it sway her. She stayed in the game for only two years, but in that short amount of time, she won two Golden Gloves championship titles.
“Those were hard fights,” Doyle said. “Those were wars.”
Her only professional fight ended in a loss, by decision. It was called the “California female fight of the year,” by local press.
In the wake of the brawl, Hollywood came calling, with Paramount Studios asking her to co-write a script treatment. Doyle declined.
She said she wasn’t ready for that part of her life to become public at the time. She hadn’t yet come to terms with the abusive relationship that had pushed her into the ring.
In an attempt to do just that, she began writing “Fighting Chance.” It took her two decades to complete the book, which was published in 2020.
Doyle says the response to the book has been incredible. It’s gone on to win awards, including the Best of Los Angeles award, for a nonfiction book.
And the movie … well, it may become a reality after all. Doyle recently inked a deal with Canadian filmmaker, Slavica Bogdanov, to bring “Fighting Chance” to the silver screen.