Since her childhood spent in the medieval city of Gliwice, Poland, Aleksandra "Ola" Magdziak Lopes has been good at nearly everything she has put her mind, and body, to. Tennis, horseback riding, track and field, English as a second language, wrestling. So when, in her early 20s, she visited a local Massachusetts boxing gym to get back into shape, she was both fascinated and frustrated by just how difficult it was.
"This was the first thing in my life that challenged me in a way that I can't put into words," says Lopes.
At 16, Lopes traveled to the United States by herself as an exchange student, attending Plymouth South High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts, graduating early and at the top of her class. While a student at Bridgewater State in Massachusetts, she took a boxing lesson.
"It was instantaneous," she says. "I put on the gloves and thought, 'This is what I want to do.'"
Like the vast majority of female fighters, Lopes must maintain a day job. She may be one of very few, however, whose 9-to-5 conjures up just as much conflict as her moonlight. In between cardio sessions at 6 a.m. and sparring in the evenings, Lopes practices worker's compensation law for Babanikas, Ziedman & King, P.C., in Brockton, Massachusetts.
In many ways, civil litigation provides a nice gray space in which to work after mornings and nights spent in black and white.
"In boxing, it's either going to be a win, loss or maybe draw. But that's as bad as a loss," she says.
"In law, there's no such thing as black and white, losses or wins. It's such a mixture of listening to clients' needs, being able to talk and negotiate with the other side, to come up with [the] best solution in light of the circumstances."
On April 7, perhaps for the first time, she wanted victory for more than herself. In front of a packed house at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, Lopes and her stepson Artie, under the training and management of her husband, Wayne, fought in honor of Wayne's oldest son, Manuel "Manny" Lopes.
Manny, a Golden Glover and popular local pro, lost his battle with depression and drugs on New Year's Eve 2016. Lopes and her husband coordinated with boxing promotion Classic Entertainment and Sports to set up fights in his memory, as well as induct him into CES' Ring of Honor. For the Lopes family, it was a way to heal.
"It might sound funny," she says, "but after Manny's death, this fight is exactly what we needed."
That night, the longtime pro, immigrant, attorney, wife and stepmother stepped into the ring for the 23rd time, going eight rounds against Mexico's Paty Ramirez in front of a sea of T-shirts that read "Manny." And when she ducked through the ropes on the way back out, she left her heart behind.
Aleksandra, who goes by "Ola" in the ring, drills with husband and trainer Wayne Lopes, as his son Artie Lopes watches from the ropes. Wayne is training both fighters for upcoming bouts on April 7. A high school wrestler, Aleksandra started boxing in college to get back into shape and fell in love at her first session. "I put on the gloves and thought, 'This is what I want to do.' And because I can't do things halfway, I started training four or five days a week. Within weeks, I wanted to spar to see how good I was. Within a year, I wanted to compete."
Aleksandra works on strength and conditioning during training camp. "When you come out to see the fight, you see a finished product -- the fighters in the ring are in shape, and they look good because they cut all kinds of weight. It's glamorous. But to get there, it's hard work for weeks at a time. The dieting gets old sometimes. The training is repetitive. You have to like it to get past it."
Aleksandra and Wayne share a laugh with his son Artie. Wayne has been training both fighters for close to two months. Their fights will be in memory of Wayne's son and Artie's brother Manuel "Manny" Lopes, another pro boxer who passed away on New Year's Eve 2016 after a long struggle with depression and drugs.
Aleksandra leaves Pembroke Police Boys Club after working out. To accommodate her office hours, Aleksandra completes her cardio before work, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. most days. Then in the evening, it's off to the boxing gym or a sparring session for two to three more hours. In recent years, she's kept a cadence of two to four fights annually, her last being a loss for the WBC light middleweight world title in Poland in September. "I don't really look at the work affecting my boxing. It depends on what opportunities we have. I always try to work a little rest in between fights because it is a lot. I need a mental and physical break from being at the gym six days a week so my body can recover."
Aleksandra arrives for her daily early-morning cardio workout at Planet Fitness in Hanover, Massachusetts. Of her training camp schedule, she says, "I just do what needs to be done. I'm kind of used to it. Keep in mind, the training camp is limited. Let's call it five and a half or six weeks, whatever. There's an end in sight."
Aleksandra settles in at her day job at Brockton, Massachusetts, firm Babanikas, Ziedman & King, P.C., where she specializes in worker's compensation. Unlike boxing, where outcomes are black and white, W's and L's, her day job allows Lopes to operate in a gray area; often a "loss" in court is just the beginning of the process, and compromise allows her clients to receive resolutions that work for them.
Waiting to spar, Aleksandra plays with Emerson Bishop, 6, at Bishop's Training and Fitness in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Emerson is the daughter of gym owner Eddie Bishop. Aleksandra was athletic from an early age and started playing sports at age 7 in her hometown of Gliwice, Poland. After traveling by herself to the U.S. at 16, she began her love affair with combat sports as a wrestler at Plymouth South High School in Massachusetts.
Wayne treats Aleksandra between sparring rounds at Bishop's Training and Fitness. The couple met at local legend Goody Petronelli's gym a decade ago; Wayne was training his late son Manny, and Aleksandra was just starting to box. The two fell into an easy friendship, which soon blossomed into romance. They married in 2008, and he's trained her ever since. "He just gets me, down to every fiber. Before fights, he gives me a little space to be selfish and go through my moods."
Darlene Kent, left, buys tickets and T-shirts from Aleksandra in the parking lot outside Tedeschi's convenience store in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Like many female fighters, Aleksandra takes care of her own marketing and promotion, including ticket sales, in addition to training. Boxing may be a passion, but she doesn't harbor any illusions about using it to support herself. Purses for women's fights are typically around $2,000 to $3,000, or as Aleksandra calls it, "vacation money."
The day of the fight at Twin River Casino, Wayne kisses a boxing glove he hung while visiting the graves of his son Manuel "Manny" Lopes, left, and his father, and Manny's namesake, Manuel Lopes, right, at Couch Memorial Cemetery in Marshfield, Massachusetts. The Lopes family has been open about Manny's decline into depression and drug use, stemming from the chronic hand injuries that ended his promising boxing career. "He was gifted at everything he did," says Wayne. "There were highs and lows, and when the depression kicked in, he struggled."
Aleksandra visits her friend Lori Suzio to have her hair done before going to a weigh-in for her upcoming fight. Later she said, "If I ever have nightmares about boxing, it's because my hair isn't braided. The last one I had, I showed up to a fight, my hair wasn't braided and I didn't have my shorts." A self-professed tomboy and lover of sweatpants, she admits she won't leave the house without her nails and makeup done.
Artie checks his weight -- 143 pounds -- ahead of his fight, while his father, Wayne, and stepmother, Aleksandra, celebrate at their home in Marshfield, Massachusetts. "It might sound funny," says Aleksandra, "but after Manny's death, this fight is exactly what we needed. It was such a shock, such a tough thing to deal with. But by doing this, asking for these fights and putting this event ahead of us, it gave us something really positive to focus on. The three of us have bonded incredibly in the gym."
Aleksandra takes a selfie while traveling with Wayne and Artie to the official weigh-in for their upcoming boxing matches at Twin River Casino. "The hardest part of fight night will be dealing with our emotions, what the fight's about," says Wayne. "We just can't let it take over. I'll be nervous with my son and wife going out to do battle."
Doctor Peter DeBlosio uses a tuning fork to check Aleksandra's hearing during a medical exam before the weigh-in for her match against Paty Ramirez. It can't come soon enough. "I'm a little cranky," says Aleksandra. "I'm physically uncomfortable, but you learn to deal with it. I've been dieting for seven weeks, so I'm just done with it. I've got to put all the water back in my body, and then I can forget about the fight tomorrow. When I wake up, all I'll think about is the fight."
Aleksandra waits for the weigh-in with Ramirez. She says she fights because "it challenges me on a whole different level. It challenges my confidence and what you can deliver under pressure. Everybody's watching, and your opponent's there to beat you to the punch. It's the one thing that even now, after all this time, after all this training, I'm still not the best at. And it drives me crazy, and it also keeps me hooked on it."
As Artie warms up for his fight, Aleksandra puts her shoes on. "I've got confidence," says the teenager and newly minted pro. "I've got to go in with my game plan. I've got to use my motivation -- my brother. We grew up training together. We fought together. He used to push me to do all the stuff it takes to get in the ring."
Standing alone outside the dressing room before her boxing match, Aleksandra deals with prefight nerves. Her last fight, a "heartbreaking" loss in a title match in Poland this past September, has been on her mind. "It was unacceptable to hang another loss on my record. I had to win this fight. I tried not to put pressure on myself, but it was there in the back of my head. That, and the fact that this was a huge event for family, I just wanted to do well and deliver on that."
Lead inspector Joe Apice watches as Aleksandra wraps her hands before her fight. At 36, she says she has no timeline for winding down her boxing career. "I'm sharp, my hands are still fast, my feet are good. I have everything I've always had. I'd love, love, love to get another two or three years out of it. Anything beyond that would be a great bonus."
Doctor DeBlosio, left, talks with Artie after a loss by TKO in the first round. "It was an exciting fight," says father and trainer Wayne. "It's nice to know where we're at. It's a big night, an emotional night. I'm proud of him. He wanted to fight, and he fought his ass off."
Aleksandra hugs her husband before her match. He'll be working her corner during the fight and will be the voice in her head during every round. "I'll send Ola out to use her boxing skills, her experience and her will to win, to break down an almost equally talented fighter," says Wayne. "When Ola fights, I always know I have the strongest fighter in the ring, physically and mentally."
After lobbying for a fight to commemorate her stepson, after seven weeks of training camp and a truckload of emotions, Aleksandra finally gets to trade punches with Ramirez. "Once I'm in the ring, all I'm focused on is the person that's front of me and what I need to do to win. The only voice I hear is Wayne's. There's no room for anything else." By the second round, her right hand has found its target, and Ramirez is shaken up. By Round 3, Aleksandra knows she has the fight in the bag.
Before the fight and at the end of several rounds, Aleksandra and Wayne exchange kisses. "He's my biggest cheerleader," she says. "It doesn't matter what happens. I know at the end he's going to be there in the ring. At the end, that is bigger than just one fight. We share a passion, and the support system I have in him makes up for all the effort you put into it. It makes it fun."
After eight two-minute rounds, Aleksandra is named the winner by unanimous decision. "I just wanted to win for Wayne," she says. "I always want to win for myself, but this one was for Wayne. I said to myself, 'I have to relax, treat this like sparring. If I just do what I do, if I can stay out of my own head, I got this.'"
The children of Manny Lopes, Aaliyah Sacco Lopes, 12, and Manuel "MJ " Wayne Lopes, 5, are joined by their grandparents, from left, Wayne Lopes and Dolores Schiavo, their son Artie and MJ's mother, Kaitlyn Mahoney, during a ceremony inducting Manny into the CES Ring of Honor. Wayne remembers his son was a talented boxer and a beautiful human being. "I have two ways to deal with this. One, 'My son is dead, and I'm an epic failure.' But I can't do that to my family. That's why I want to make it about kindness and compassion for humanity. I'm going to make it about love."
Aleksandra, left, and her mother-in-law, Kathie Lopes, weep during a ceremony inducting Manny into the CES Ring of Honor. "I was very touched from [the] beginning, when we started this, how many people came out to support the family, to be a part of the induction," she says. "It was really moving and touching. There were so many people there for them, just a lot of love in the room."