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Women’s boxer Shelito Vincent ready to attack the rankings after adversity & late start

From the ground up; Vincent shares troubled past with youth in hopes of steering others in right direction

Several weeks after celebrating her 33rd birthday, Shelito Vincent finally got the chance to walk the halls of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.

“That was supposed to be my school,” Vincent said. “Better late than never, right?”

Vincent (2-0) returned to what would’ve been her alma mater Monday morning to speak to a group of eighth-grade students as part of the school’s Leadership Conference, sharing the graphic, emotional stories of her troubled past in hopes that they don’t travel the same path she did as a youth.

The undefeated female bantamweight from New London, Conn., will return to the ring Thursday, May 24th, 2012 on the undercard of Jimmy Burchfield’s “Up For Grabs” professional boxing event at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, R.I., against newcomer Carmen Cruz of Fort Myers, Fla. Whatever free time Vincent has these days is spent training and giving back to the community, the latter of which has become a major priority in her personal life in conjunction with her growing popularity in New London.

“I feel like I owe it to some kid to see to it that the same things that happened to me don’t happen to them,” Vincent said. “I wish someone had done that for me. ”

A “great kid” and “great student” her whole life, Vincent began spiraling out of control at the age of 13 when she was raped by one of her mother’s male co-workers, a family friend and correctional officer who lived next door.

“I began drinking and fighting – any time I felt threatened by someone, I would just start beating on them,” she said. “There were times I wanted to die.”

Vincent’s depression and alcohol abuse worsened six years later when her mother, Tania, died from leukemia at 37, just seven months following the initial diagnosis.

“I rebelled against everyone,” Vincent said.

The constant fighting eventually led to Vincent’s expulsion from the Groton school system, though she later earned her General Education Degree (GED) in New London. Amidst all her troubles, she found an outlet in boxing, training with Kent Ward at Strike Zone. Two days after her mother died – and after only one month of training – she fought her first amateur bout at 19.

“I didn’t want to fight,” she said, “but, before she died, my mom made me promise I wouldn’t stop boxing.”

Vincent showed early promise, but multiple run-ins with the law – along with the death of her grandmother and the inability to find quality opponents – derailed her progress on and off for more than a decade. She served her first jail sentence at 18, followed by two more stints over the next 15 years, all for assault.

“Every time I had something good going for me,” she said, “I ended up back in jail for fighting.”

Her third and final arrest occurred in 2008, which she credits as the turning point in her life.

“Talking with some of the inmates, I started wondering what could happen if I started taking my life seriously,” she said. “After I got out for the third time, I told myself, ‘This time, I’m not going back. I’m just going to come out and box.’”

Vincent soon linked up with New England-based trainer Kurt Reader and quickly got her life back on track. Last year, she won a national Golden Gloves title, capping her amateur career with an 11-4 record before finally making her professional debut at 32 with a win over Karen Dulin in October. Vincent beat Dulin again in March for her second consecutive win, both under the promotional guidance of Burchfield, who signed her shortly before her debut.

Boxing has not only kept her off the streets, but it’s also kept her from reliving her past. No longer stuck in neutral, Vincent is moving forward in hopes of one day capturing a world title while inspiring other troubled youth to change their course in life.

“I’m not depressed anymore,” said Vincent, who is also volunteering for the Haymakers For Hope program in Boston to help raise money for cancer research.

“Right now, the only people I talk to are boxing people, because boxing was the only thing that kept me from being depressed. I’m not around negative people anymore. I’m happy now. I think I have the talent to win some titles; I just need to stay focused. You just know when you get to a certain point that things are going to be different, and I’m at that point now.”