With only one fight in the last 47 months, professional boxer Kelsey Jeffries isn’t blind to the possible end of her career. Her involvement with the sport for more than 15 years, though, has prepared her for when that day comes.
For the past five years, Jeffries, 36, has switched her daily priorities away from training for the next big fight. With a dream to help people in need, Jeffries pursued a nursing degree at Gavilan College. After five years of 12-hour days and piles of homework, Jeffries can call herself a nurse after receiving her degree on May 25.
Graduation has been an overwhelming release of emotions for Jeffries, who struggled through high school in the early 1990s in Hawaii and never expected to find herself back in a classroom.
“I’m not really sure I’ve realized that I’m done yet,” she said. “It’s been probably the hardest three years of my life, and prior to that, two years of prerequisites. So it’s been pretty much five years I’ve been going at this. It’s tough.”
She continued: “Getting into the nursing program is a challenge for many people. For me to be accepted was amazing, considering I’ve been out of school for quite a long time. For me to jump back in after such a long distance from school, it’s a tough transition.”
It was boxing, though, which allowed her to succeed.
Jeffries boxing resume is long. She holds a 41-10-1 record, including four knockouts, and she has held the IFBA Featherweight and NABF Womens Super Bantamweight titles, among others. She’s fought everywhere from San Jose to Berlin.
She has been a boxer for so long, her amateur career dates back to 1994 on the shores of Hawaii.
And she used her passion and work ethic gained through those years of boxing to master courses in the nursing program.
“As a fighter, I’ve got that very good work ethic, and I just transferred that into school and I was able to excel,” she said. “It’s been easy in one way because that’s how I work and operate, but it’s been difficult. It is a lot different than boxing, obviously.”
That difficulty increased exponentially in the last year.
After two years of prerequisites and two years of classes earning an associates degree in health sciences, Jeffries joined the Gavilan Registered Nurse program a year ago. The RN program was extensive, to say the least.
“If I knew how tough it was I don’t think I would do it again – that’s how tough it was,” she said. “It was tough. I was proud that I did it. And I never missed a day. I was never sick. I was always there. I never missed training.”
As an RN in training, each day included a stack of books to read and a job that didn’t pay anything.
“You have to read more than you have time in a day to read,” she said. “It’s a full-time job. They don’t want you to work. You can’t work. Maybe one day if you’re lucky.”
Days of clinical study were even longer, she said.
“You’re looking at a 10-hour day and then you have to study,” she said. “The entire three years has been like this.”
In her final year at Gavilan, 22 students entered the program with her. When she graduated, 13 were left.
“They give so many reason to kick you out,” she said. “You’re on nails – oh my God. If you don’t wear the right outfits, you’re gone.”
Her motivation to succeed during those five years stemmed from a boxing background and rough childhood.
Her teen years in Hawaii – her family moved there when she was 13 – were full of obstacles. Her mom married an abusive man, who affected Jeffries’ high school life, she said. Her two siblings followed dark paths leading to drugs and suicide.
Alone, Jeffries left home at 16. Boxing and athletics then became her backbone.
“I exercise, I train, I fight,” she said. “That’s how I deal with my pain. That’s where my motivation is. That’s where my energy comes from. It’s from coming up rough. I’m going to be the best, whatever it is.”
She continued, “I’m going to be the best nurse. I was the best boxer. I was the best fighter and I’m probably still in there.
“The next chapter in my life is to be the best nurse.”
And her manager Bruce Anderson has never left her side.
“(I was there) for her to see what was out there,” he said, “and make her believe that she could do it. I knew she had what it took to do it. I knew she was smart and had a good work ethic. She was focused. She had self discipline that you’ve never seen on anybody.”
Anderson’s support – along with Hazel Hawkins hospital and Gold’s Gym – gave Jeffries the opportunity to further educate herself.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said. “He gave me the keys to do it. I had the engine to get there and he just had to turn the key a little bit. He made me feel I could do it.”
Through all of this, though, Jeffries never stopped preparing for her next boxing fight. It’s been 32 months since “The Road Warrior” last stepped into the ring – a majority decision loss to Ana “The Hurricane” Julation in September 2009 – but she hopes it’s not her last.
Regardless, boxing is no longer her priority. She hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree next.
“I’m hoping to have a couple more fights,” Jeffries said. “Definitely, I feel great. I still love it. But I’m now in school and nursing is my priority.”