Heather Hardy didn't hesitate when asked the question.
“Fighter,” she told Bleacher Report when asked to use the one word that would most accurately fit the title of her autobiography one day. “I'm a fighter. I've fought through adversity. I've fought through really tough situations.”
You walk into Heather “The Heat” Hardy's office at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, New York, past hundreds of photos and dozens of banners proclaiming the names of world champions to train at the iconic venue located in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, and you immediately understand why she's here.
You see what the 33-year-old was looking for and found within these walls.
“It's hard to say where I'd be if I hadn't found boxing,” Hardy said. “When I came here, I was going through a divorce. I wasn't getting child support. I was supporting my sister and her son, and I was working anywhere from three to six jobs at any given time.
“I was down in the Bowery selling lights. I was running websites and doing Internet marketing from home. I was just finding ways to put the pieces together to survive month to month and feed the kid [her now 10-year-old daughter, Annie].”
Hardy began her fighting career in kickboxing before transitioning over to the sweet science.
Becoming a professional fighter wasn't exactly something she planned on happening.
“It was a quick decision. Do you wanna have a fight? All right. Within three weeks of putting gloves on my hands, I had my first fight,” she said through a laugh.
It was a gamble.
The quiet, shy single mother from the tight-knit Irish community of Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn was coming pretty far out of her comfort zone.
But it was a risk that paid off and was the first baby step toward what she's become today—an undefeated professional boxer with the talent and moxie to demand a spot at the table in a sport that is notoriously harsh to women.
With 12 professional wins, the WBC International Female Super Bantamweight Championship around her waist and a second slot on a Premier Boxing Champions card Friday night at the Barclays Center, things seem to be heading in the right direction.
Hardy has gathered a good deal of mainstream attention because of her overcome-all-odds story, exciting in-ring style and otherworldly drive to succeed, if not for herself, then for the next generation of female fighters who will follow in her footsteps.
The life of a woman in an industry traditionally dominated by men is always precarious, at best, and that's because most of the powerbrokers and money counters just don't see any real bang for their buck.
“You have HBO, Showtime, ESPN—they refuse to televise female fights. So when a promoter sees that, they see us [female fighters] as dead-end investments,” Hardy said. “Why do they want to invest money in us if they're never going to make their capital back?
“If the networks say: 'You know what? A fighter is a fighter. I'll put anyone on.' Then promoters would look at us the way they look at the guys. 'OK. She's a seller, she's marketable, she's a good fighter. I'm going to invest in this kid and see where I can take her.' But the door is closed for women.”
It's taken a lot for Hardy, who was a champion at the 2012 New York Golden Gloves and named the tournament's outstanding female fighter, to crack open that door and get even one toe inside.
She's something of a workaholic, not necessarily by choice, but because that's what the sport requires for a woman to get even a second look, much less a genuine shot.
Hardy spends her days balancing the requirements of motherhood, work and pursuing her dream as a professional prizefighter.
She's up before 5:30 a.m. every day so she can make her daughter's lunch before heading to Gleason's to train her first clients of the morning, people who “get up and train before they go to work,” as she describes them.
After that, she races home to take Annie to school before returning to Gleason's to handle a few more clients and then start her own training with head coach Devon Cormack, a former kickboxing champion who guided his sister, Alicia Ashley, to a boxing world title.
Hardy said she “maybe” then gets a few minutes to eat and relax before heading back to school and resuming her job as a mother, which includes helping with homework, feeding and spending quality time with her daughter before heading back to the gym for more.
The hustle never stops, even in the hours and minutes before she steps through the ropes for a fight.
It's a life that requires not just the physical and mental preparation that comes with hitting and getting hit to pay the bills but also a keen sense of marketing. You have to be a constant and vigilant self-promoter.
“The morning of my fight, I'm in the gym finalizing ticket sales,” Hardy explained. “Every fight. I am here the mornings of my fights selling tickets. The only reason I've been able to gain momentum with my career is because I sell tickets.”
If you don't sell, you don't fight.
Hardy makes her third career appearance at Barclays—where she participated in the first female boxing match at the venue last June—Friday night on the non-televised undercard of Amir Khan's showdown with Chris Algieri.
She faces Noemi Bosques, a “very dedicated fighter” who has “created a lot of buzz for women's boxing” in her native Florida, in a scheduled eight-round bout with high stakes for both women.
Nobody ever wants to lose, but for female fighters, with so few opportunities available even at the top levels of the sport, it's literally not an option.
Your first loss could be your last one.
The minute you no longer have whatever it is that made you marketable, or what Hardy calls your ability to be a “seller,” you could find yourself out the door with nothing to show for it but some bumps, bruises and a shattered dream.
Hardy isn't ready for her clock to strike midnight.
She's overcome many nightmares—divorce, the pressures of raising a child on her own, losing one home to a fire and another to Hurricane Sandy—to reach her dream.
Through it all, she's remained true to herself and held onto one essential belief: No obstacle is too large.
“The best advice I ever got was from my great-grandmother, who I named my daughter after. She said that God makes the back to fit the burden. Nothing that comes at you is something you can't overcome.
“Just take it in stride and keep on doing what you're supposed to do. I feel like I'm not handed anything I can't handle.”
Kevin McRae is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter @McRaeBoxing. All quotes were obtained from a one-on-one interview.
You can follow Heather Hardy @HeatherHardyBox.