At 11 years old, LaTonya King made a split-second decision that ultimately changed the course of her life. It was a balmy spring afternoon in 2000 when she jumped into a fight to defend her younger brother, Calvin, against two neighborhood bullies.
"I went in there with my arms flying around, scratching anything I could. I had no idea what I was doing but I had to do something to protect my brother. We weren't too successful," King (above, right) said. She wound up with a huge gash across her face. For a future boxing champ, the fight had just begun.
The next day, LaTonya's mother took Calvin to Detroit's famed Kronk Gym for boxing lessons. LaTonya tagged along -- and insisted on getting in on the action. "For two hours I begged and begged the trainer to show me something. He finally agreed, thinking I'd go away, but I never did. Eleven years later I'm still there." And she's not alone. While her brother eventually left boxing, King's little sister, Monayah (above, left), took up the sport, too.
When LaTonya, now 22, and her sister, Monayah Patterson, 16, walk into Kronk Gym, two things are obvious: They're the only females in the testosterone-filled boxing mecca and they are respected by every guy there.
The sisters have made boxing history by earning a combined five world championship titles. They plan on taking their girl power all the way to the 2012 Olympics, where women's boxing will be included for the first time since 1904.
Only one athlete from each weight class -- 112, 132 and 165 pounds -- will represent Team USA. Both sisters fought in the same weight class last year, but there's no sign of any sibling rivalry. It's all about mutual support and self-sacrifice. "I want to give my sister the best chance possible," LaTonya said. "During my last fight I weighed 125 pounds but I'm much smaller than Monayah, so I'm going to drop down to 112 pounds to give us both a shot at London."
LaTonya, who is 5-foot-3, has been cranking up her already intense workouts to make the upcoming June weigh-in for the USA National Championships. The sisters hit the gym five days a week and spend three hours a day stretching, hand wrapping, knocking down eight rounds on the bag, three rounds in the ring against male boxers and then a session of shadow boxing. The last is Monayah's least favorite. "It's so boring staring at yourself in the mirror!" she said. "Put me in the ring with someone instead."
Then they finish that off with 300 sit-ups and 100 pushups. "It isn't easy to drop that much weight but I can do it," LaTonya said. "I'm really careful about what I eat. No sugar, tons of water and small portions four to five times a day."
Sparring with the guys is the best workout around. "They don't go easy on us," LaTonya said. "The guys don't want to get beat by a female so they do everything they can to win. If they get caught with a shot from my sister or me, you can hear the whole gym erupt. They will definitely try to beat us up after that. We work just as hard as they do."
LaTonya certainly knows a thing or two about hard work. After earning straight As since the seventh grade, then graduating as her high school's valedictorian, and claiming 10 national championships and two world titles, she set her sights on the 2008 Olympics. When the IOC ruled against including women's boxing -- making it the only male summer Olympic sport without a female counterpart -- LaTonya made the difficult decision to trade boxing for a scholarship to Wayne State University.
But leaving the sport that had been her life for almost a decade was harder than she thought. "It was a rough time," she said. "I gained a lot of weight and felt pretty aimless. Boxing was all I knew and when it was gone I felt lost."
After the IOC announced women's boxing would be included in the 2012 Olympics, LaTonya decided to make a comeback. After a two-year hiatus, she stepped back into the ring. "The guys at the gym were really supportive," she said. "They kept telling me that making the Olympic team would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew I had to try."
LaTonya started training again in March 2010; by August she'd regained her No. 1 national ranking, and in October she landed her third world championship. In the boxing world, that kind of comeback is rare and LaTonya credits her family's efforts. "My parents support me so much and my sister makes sure I'm not slacking."
While LaTonya has speed on her side, Monayah, who knocked out a boy the first time she stepped foot in the ring two years ago, is pure power. "I don't like missing any training days," Monayah said. "It's hard to give up hanging out with friends and going to the movies, but boxing is worth it. I definitely have something to prove. I want to show people that girls can beat up a guy, too."
LaTonya agrees, and believes in her sister's potential. "She is strong! I call her my 'big little sister.' On days when I don't feel like going to the gym, Monayah stays on me until I'm physically in the car driving down the road to Kronk. Being accountable to her keeps me motivated. At the end of the day, family is all you have."
The little brother who was the catalyst for all of this, Calvin, has recently contemplated a return to the ring. For now, he is content to cheer his sisters toward the Olympics. "I think they will both make it to the Olympics. Hard work, willpower, strength and dedication. My sisters have all of it and that's what matters in the end."