After growing up in Honduras in Central America, Maria Antunez decided to attend Mercyhurst University to play soccer and study biology.

She dreamed of being a professional soccer player, but those dreams were cut short after tearing her left ACL in 2012. But after getting the chance to train with a professional boxer in her home country, she was hooked.

“If there’s one thing this sport has taught me, it’s to persevere in the midst of adversity,” said Maria Antunez, former Olympic Games qualifying boxer. “You’ve got to stay calm cool and collected so you can make decisions in seconds.”

After countless hours of sparring and training, Antunez was able to join the national team, where she went on to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. But the pandemic prevented her from competing.

And then, another setback.

While training and preparing to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, she tore her ACL a second time, crushing her chances for next year.

“This was my second time around dealing with this kind of injury, ten years apart from the first one,” said Antunez. “Even when it was extremely difficult and it seemed like it everything was dark and I was never going to get out of it, I just kept pushing every day.”

As part of her training, Antunez spars five days a week with mostly men, but they don’t take it easy on her and she certainly doesn’t take it easy on them.

“I am actually grateful that 99% of my sparring is with guys because it has helped me become stronger, braver and faster. Obviously, men are naturally stronger, faster than women, but I strive in my mind and don’t want to be left behind. I’m always pushing to be as fast and strong as them and to outwork them,” said Antunez.

Now that she’s back at full strength, Antunez is getting ready to step back into the ring on Nov. 22 for the Bayfront Bash. She aims to qualify for the 2028 Olympics in Tokyo.