If you were to think of the name of a female boxer character for a novel, you could do a lot worse than Kelsey Kaiser.
There's something right about the one-two percussion of the "Ks", and the double "s" sound that hints at sly escapes from an opponent's jab.
But when you meet the real boxer Kelsey Kaiser in street clothes, she doesn't scream boxer.
Kaiser is a lithe, attractive 24-year old, whose affable temperament and ready smile suits her day job working with special needs students at Clark Lane Middle School in Waterford
But as soon she's dressed in her workout clothes, pulls back her blond hair and dons her boxing gloves, it would behoove you to watch out, especially if you're her sparring partner, and at the receiving end of her rapid-fire punches.
Kaiser, a Waterford native who now lives in Montville, trains relentlessly at the Strike Zone gym in New London, the home of the Whaling City Boxing Club.
"She's a gym rat," Darryl MarcAurele, who trains mixed martial arts fighters, said. "She's here every single day."
The 5'3 Kaiser, who weighs in usually around 112 pounds, has been training at Strike Zone for the past three years. She's 5-1, but lost out on a chance to improve her record when her St. Patrick's Day bout at Ocean Beach Park was postponed when an actual fight between fans broke out in the crowd causing a cancellation. Kaiser hopes to box again later this summer.
She came to boxing after achieving some success as a field hockey player at Waterford High School and for a few years at Eastern Connecticut State University.
But, like many away from home for the first time, she had one too many late nights.
"I was partying a bit too hard," Kaiser said.
She needed a change of direction and that course correction took her to Strike Zone and Whaling City Boxing Club.
"We knew she was a wild child, and she knew what the gym was about," said Orlando Peace, program coordinator for the club's Heavy Hitters program, which provides sports mentoring for at-risk youth.
The gym, located on a second-floor of an old Bank Street building, is clearly where Kaiser draws both her mental, as well as, physical strength.
On several occasions, she referred to the gym as a "her family."
Peace echoed that remark, saying that in the six years he's known her, she's become like a little sister to him. She takes part in almost every community service event the facility organizes.
"Whenever we need help, she's there," Peace said.
"Or she comes up with [an idea for a project] and I'll know it in her face. And I'll think, 'Ohhh damn. What am I getting roped into now?'" he said, laughing.
But he talks of Kaiser's unflagging dedication with obvious pride.
"I facilitate every event we have here," he said, "and I can always turn to her to help because I know it's going to get done. She gets people involved, and she makes sure the kids, first and foremost, are going to have a blast."
She recently organized a pancake fundraiser that brought in a few thousand dollars, he added.
"If she had a blank check she'd go ballistic buying stuff and equipment."
One look around the place and it's clear that a blank check would come in handy.
"I like it here," Kaiser said. "It's old school."
It ain't Planet Fitness. It's an urban boxing gym as you might imagine it. A place where real people go to improve their lives.
Kaiser usually arrives soon after it opens at 4:30 p.m. It's, quiet for the time being, except for a radio tuned to a local hip-hop and R&B station.
There's the aroma of yesterday's sweat combined with the rubbery smell of the mats, all with a hint of cleaning solution.
Near the entrance is a boxing ring, with four tattered, worn ropes and a floor seemingly held together with pieces of silver duct tape.
In an L-shape from one side of the ring and stretching to the far wall are all sorts of punching bags, hanging like different varieties of cured meat in a North End market.
There's spaces for cardio training and a large mat where wrestlers and MMA fighters hone their techniques.
As more boxers and fighters arrive, the room swells with sound: thumps, jumpropes skipping on the floor and boxers emitting hissy exhales as they punch.
Also, there's the ever-present beeping of an alarm going off in three-minute intervals alerting those working out to move onto another part of their training.
That's by design, according to Kent Ward, one of the founders of the club.
"It gets them thinking about three minute rounds during a fight," Ward said.
Kaiser usually begins with a round of jumping rope, before running through her shadow boxing routine. Then it's a tour of the big bags and the speed bags.
If she's up for it, there's a round of sparring, where Ward keeps a close watch on her punches and footwork.
"How far she wants to go is up to her," Ward said.
Kaiser began her sparring bout with a male boxer — she usually boxes men at the gym — with a few jabs when she brought the proceedings to halt.
"Hold on," she said, removing a dainty stud piercing from side of her nose.
Kaiser then flashed a charming, "excuse me" smile, and resumed pummeling her opponent.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
"The Big Picture" is a photographic portrait series spotlighting local personalities. You can see past entries here: