TRAVELERS REST, SC — There are only gym sounds.
The uneven staccato of padded fists popping against the mitted hands of a trainer, the guttural exclamations from an athlete immersed in chasing perfection and a dream, and the shrill alarms blaring forth from an incessant timer, reminding Anna Crutchfield that it’s time to resume her interval training for another three minutes.
Rivulets of sweat trickle down her cheek and a long brown ponytail bounces behind her as she bobs and weaves, dips and slips and then – thwack! – lands a left hook with far more power and force than should emanate from a 5-foot-6 high school junior who at first glance would appear more comfortable baking sweets in home economics than perfecting the sweet science in a boxing ring.
Upon closer look, it’s obvious that Crutchfield is more than capable of both, and the paradox is profound.
On the one hand, there’s a doe-eyed 16-year-old girl, sweet and innocent and soft-spoken as she navigates her way through the dances and drama of a beauty pageant at Travelers Rest High School.
On the other hand, there’s a fiery-eyed 16-year-old girl, tough and gritty and relentless as she plows her way through the fights and foes at the Ringside World Championships.
When she steps into the ring, this beauty becomes a beast.
They call her “The Preacher’s Daughter,” which may not sound as imposing as “The Crutch” or “The Bonecrusher” or “The Mauler,” but it’s unquestionably more accurate. Anna’s father, Scott, is pastor at SkyPointe Church in Travelers Rest when not serving as his daughter’s coach.
“Being a pastor, I’m the farthest thing from this (boxing), but I’ve become a student,” he said. “You want to talk about ridiculous discipline? This is discipline off the charts.”
Anna Crutchfield is nothing if not disciplined, and she’s always has had an athletic bone. She was an award-winning clogger by age 3, played basketball throughout her youth and was the only girl on her Tee-ball team.
Later, she excelled in track and cross country, competing for the Travelers Rest High varsity teams as a seventh-grader.
So a couple of years ago, when her older brother, Jacob, encouraged her to accompany him to Bennett’s Strength Warehouse in Travelers Rest for regular workouts, she gave it a try. The next thing she knew, Anna was strapping on the gloves.
“I liked the one-on-one contact,” Anna said. “I liked being able to control what happened to me.”
Anna showed so much promise so quickly that Greenville’s Lamar “Kidfire” Parks, who 20 years ago was the world’s No. 1-ranked middleweight, helped jump-start Anna’s career by showing her the ropes, so to speak.
He immediately liked what he saw.
“The thing that impressed me right out of the gate was that she was an athlete,” Parks said. “She came into the gym in shape. She’s a very fast learner, too.
“And she hits very hard. She will surprise you. I know she surprises those girls – a lot of them think they’re just going to walk through her when they see her.”
They’re obviously misled by Anna’s appearance.
“Does she look like a boxer to you?” asks Anna’s mom, Dana. “Because she doesn’t to me.
“She always told me, ‘Mom I’m not a boy, and I don’t want to look like a boy.’ Thank God she looks like a girl. I have two boys – I don’t need another.”
Anna still competes in beauty pageants, but only if they don’t interfere with her skyrocketing boxing career.
“I think that pageant life wore on her a little bit,” Scott said. “She said it was too much drama with the other girls. I jokingly say it was too violent, so she took up boxing.”
Anna’s first bout was a gut-wrenching experience.
“I didn’t want to get in the ring,” Anna said. “My legs were shaking and it was nerve-wracking. When I was stepping into the ring I tripped and I was thinking, ‘Please don’t make me get in here.’ “
Now they can’t keep her out.
Anna has fought 25 times the past two years, losing just four times. Each of those four defeats came against a national champion.
Yet her mother, Dana, has yet to see a fight. At least not live, anyway.
“I can’t watch,” Dana says. “I just get sick. It was hard enough watching her dance (in competitions) because I’d get real nervous for her, but watching her fight? No way.”
Later, Dana will watch videos of Anna’s bouts only after she knows the result.
Anna’s older sister, Brittney, believes Anna’s boxing is the craziest thing she’s ever seen, but is proud of her, as is Zachary, the older of her two brothers.
“He’s like, ‘Uh, yeah, that’s my sister!’” Dana said.
Jacob, a senior football player at Travelers Rest, is now regularly upstaged by his younger sister.
“When they used to go somewhere, it was like, ‘Ah, you’re Jacob’s sister.’ Now it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re Anna’s brother,’ “ Dana said.
But Anna knows the score.
“He’s proud of me,” Anna said. “He was the one who started it, so he tells everybody the only reason I box is because of him, so he likes to take credit for that.”
Wayne McCall has followed boxing since the days of Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks and Joe Frazier.
But he has a new favorite now.
“She’s not a female boxer, she’s a boxer who happens to be a female,” McCall says of Anna. “There’s a huge difference in that.”
McCall, who’s the mayor of Travelers Rest, recently declared Aug. 19 “Anna Crutchfield Day” in the northern Greenville County town of 4,680.
He likes her moxie, admires her dedication and doesn’t doubt that she’ll go as far as she desires in the fight game, which is all the way to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” McCall said. “She fights with a higher power; she’s unafraid.”
With three prestigious titles to her credit and U.S. Olympic boxing leaders well aware of her exploits, Anna is no longer a novice or an unknown quantity, which is both good and bad.
Potential opponents – and their coaches – have taken notice as well, and many don’t want to put their fighters into the ring with Anna.
“It’s getting hard for her to find a fight,” McCall said. “Usually she has to fight either up or down. Nobody wants to come into her weight class and fight her.”
McCall has seen why, first-hand. Last year he traveled to Atlanta to watch Anna fight in person for the first time. Sitting next to him was Dana, her face buried in her hands, unable to watch even for a second.
“I heard him go, ‘Ooooh, ooooh!’ and I told him to stop doing that,” Dana said. “And he said, ‘No, it’s good. It’s only bad for the other girl.’ “
Anna went on to win the Paul Murphy Tournament, the first of her three major titles so far. She won the Junior Olympics title in June, then walked away with the Ringside World Championship belt two months ago.
Anna is slated to compete in the Police Athletic League Championships in California later this month, and a win there would give her a “triple crown” – a sweep of the three biggest national championships.
She’ll then look forward to a couple of weeks at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado and a potential trip to her first international competition shortly thereafter.
A lot of things are happening for Anna in rapid-fire fashion, but she seems up to the task, whether it’s maintaining her honor roll status and serving on the student council at school or peppering an opponent with a constant barrage of jabs.
Anna draws on an ever-growing network of support to stay inspired. In short, there are a lot of people in her corner.
“With dancing, people never really knew who I was, but now that I’m boxing and actually doing well the whole community is behind me,” Anna said.
Said McCall: “She’s a good kid, a very good person to have in your town. It gives a lot of kids something to look up to and be proud of. She has quite a fan base with her peers.”
Dana Crutchfield doesn’t know exactly where her youngest daughter’s penchant for pugilism began. It could have been inherited from Scott’s late father, Don, who was a Golden Gloves boxer decades ago or perhaps it’s rooted in Anna being the youngest child.
“We’ve got four kids, and she’s the baby and they used to beat the crap out of her,” Dana said. “Maybe that’s the reason she’s so stinking mean.”
Dana laughs, of course, because Anna only shows a mean streak when in the ring, although sometimes her innate kindness comes through there, too.
Not long ago she broke another fighter’s nose during a sparring session – and immediately began apologizing.
“She’s not only very skilled, but she has a very big heart, too,” McCall said.
Besides, if Anna’s head ever begins to swell, Dana is right there.
“She’s grounded,” Dana said. “And I’m probably the hardest on her because I want to keep her that way. If I see you looking or acting smug, well, we’re just not going to have that.”
Anna has no time for such anyway. She’s the second-ranked 125-pound fighter in the country, and she’s training to maintain or improve on that position.
When Anna is asked about her goals, she’s matter-of-fact. She plans to compete in the Olympics in 2016, then turn professional while attending law school. Ultimately, she’ll be an attorney.
No one doubts her, because she’ll likely pursue everything with equal intensity.
On a sweltering evening, in a warehouse gym near Travelers Rest, Anna Crutchfield goes through her routine, immersed in what her father refers to as “the rhythm of the gym.”
There’s stretching and shadow boxing and sparring, followed by mitt work and push-ups and sprints and more.
A timer blares, signaling the end of another three-minute drill and the beginning of a 60-second respite.
Anna wipes her brow and smiles.
“It’s kind of fun hitting people in the face,” she says, “and not getting in trouble for it.”