YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --
Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.
Boxers know this well. For Sarah Jane Gruber, this was the first lesson she learned after competitively stepping into the ring. Although anyone can pick up boxing as a multifaceted workout that targets several parts of the body, competing is a different story. The fighter is front and center. It’s just her, the opponent and the ring. To Gruber, boxing is a sport with the capability of putting things into perspective. It reveals her obstacles, her fears, her insecurities; but those few minutes before the ding of the bell make it crystal clear what she wants most right now: she wants to win.
To warm up and stay loose she shadow-boxes and runs a few drills as last-minute practice.
Her coach spins red wrappings around her hands before she slides her hands into her matching red gloves. She can tell he is nervous by the way he laces up the gloves and the fact he is talking a mile a minute. It’s too much so she focuses on her drills and her punches and prepares herself mentally for the next three rounds of pugilism.
Making her way to the ring she moves through the crowd and they begin to notice her. One man jumps from his chair and shouts, “I put my money on you! Don’t mess it up!” Within the sea of voices and blur of shadowed faces she notices a friendly one. Les Parkey, an Air Force veteran and former Golden Gloves winner, takes a fighting stance and yells, “One two, Baby! Give her the one-two!”
But all the cheers and jeers seem to disappear the moment her boxing shoes hit the mat. The bright lights of the ring mask her spectators, and to her, all that matters is the 5’5” 150-pound woman entering the red corner.
Senior Airman Sarah Jane Gruber, a broadcast journalist for the 910th Public Affairs Office, is a fighter and a spirited personality recognized across the Wing. A product of a military family, Gruber was inspired from a young age to share in that patriotism and wear the uniform as the first woman in her family to serve.
“The military has been a big part of my family,” said Gruber. “My grandfather served in the Army during World War II under General Patton, my dad was a Seabee in the Navy and my brother was a contractor for the Air Force when I was a kid.”
Although Gruber jokes about joining the Marine Corps so her family can represent separate branches of the United States Military, her brother Adam inspired her to join the Air Force over its sister branches. She recalls visiting his home base of Grand Forks and hearing him tell stories of his time in Baghdad after 9/11.
“He really brought us in and made us a part of it,” said Gruber.
Proud of her family’s service, she enlisted as a Reserve Citizen Airman Nov. 22, 2015.
Gruber says a lot of who is stems from her parents and her upbringing.
“My dad is a mixture of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne with not much room for puddles,” said Gruber. “He’s a tough guy and very direct. My momma is a feisty woman from the heart of Virginia. She was literally born on a mountain. Both of them come from humble upbringings and have cool stories about how they made their living. I think I get a lot of who I am from them.”
Her father showed her boxing stances and how to throw her first punch, but it was during her time at the Defense Information School located on Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, she really got into boxing as a sport.
“I had a few friends who were really into watching UFC and boxing matches in the dayroom,” said Gruber. “I always had a respect for the sport, but that’s when I really got interested in taking it on. When I got home from tech school and told my dad about it, he directed me to my uncle’s boxing gym in the local area.”
It’s been four years and Gruber now competes in Women’s Amateur Boxing for USA Boxing’s Great Lakes Region under the training and guidance of Lorenzo “Ren” Scott and Greg Sampson at Common Ground Boxing in Alliance, Ohio. As a woman in boxing, Gruber says that one of the biggest challenges is finding fights. Throughout her training, she has been scheduled for four fights, with each opponent backing out, until she finally got her chance to go toe-to-toe with an opponent.
“Stepping into the ring your first time is a really overwhelming experience," Gruber said. “But after being in the ring and getting hit, I know for sure it’s something I want to continue to do. It’s that first time you get hit that is going to tell you if you love it or if you’ll leave it.”
Gruber held her ground for two out of three rounds before the referee gave victory to her opponent by a technical knockout.
“She landed a nasty hook that gave me my first standing eight-count and after deciding to continue she followed up with an uppercut to my solar plexus,” said Gruber. “I was still standing but that was it for me and the ref called it. For a loss, I was content with it. I went in to fight with an experienced opponent and came out on my feet. Not everybody gets to do that.”
For as tough and as gritty as boxers are painted, both fighters congratulated each other at the end of the night with a hug.
“One thing about boxers, we are a tight-knit community. It’s kind of like a family. You have your old fighters that still show up to fights or gyms to show their support. Once you’re in its hard to let go.”
While Gruber embodies the fighter’s spirit stepping into the ring, she captures that same fighting spirit of the 910th Airlift Wing when stepping behind a camera. Her goal? To show Reserve Citizen Airmen and the rest of the world exactly what the 910th is capable of.
“The videos I like to do the most are morale videos and capturing action that lets us show how badass we are,” Gruber said. “The type of footage people see and make them get excited to do their job around the Wing. Whether its covering the aerial spray mission on top of a cliff out in Utah, an airshow at YARS or covering a cargo drop from inside the bay of a C-130H, I want to show the Wing who we are.”
Although Gruber has many plans and aspirations—continuing boxing competitively, finishing her degree in dietetics and nutrition at Arizona State University and eventually opening her own boxing gym—she puts starting a family and a home with her boyfriend, Jeremy, out west in California or Idaho at the top of her list. And she is ready to fight to make the dream a reality.