A Rocky road to success

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Kat Ward had proven herself as a fighter before she ever stepped into the boxing ring.

Nonetheless, the 26-year-old Pawhuska mother was filled with uncertainty when she climbed through the ropes at last month’s “Showdown in Mac Town,” a Saturday night fight card in McAlester.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ward said during a recent workout at Gilkey’s Karate, located at 138 E. Main St. “The other girl had fought before, but everything was new for me.”

When the bell finally rang to start the first round, Ward felt a sense of relief. No matter what happened next, she was going to find out if she was meant to be a boxer.

“Kat was supposed to have had an earlier fight — kickboxing — in Tulsa,” said Earl Gilkey, a longtime local martial arts instructor who is Ward’s coach/manager. “That got cancelled because she didn’t think she was ready.”

Gilkey said he was confident Ward would perform well in the ring. She did not let him down

In the Sept. 12 bout, he said the Pawhuskan came out swinging, and so did the Hot Springs, Ark., woman she was fighting.

“I landed the first punch, though,” Ward noted. “I do remember that.”

Following a very active opening round, Gilkey said the fight “was probably just about even — or Kat’s opponent might have had a little edge.” As the fast pace continued through the second and third two-minute rounds, Gilkey said Ward proved to herself and to everybody watching that she was the better fighter.

“We definitely won the last two rounds,” the coach stated. “Kat landed a lot more punches and she also showed better stamina.”

Gilkey said they exited the ring to appreciative cheers. Ward had won the first match of her career by split decision, but in impressive fashion against an experienced fighter.

“It should have been the main event,” Gilkey said, adding that it was the seventh fight of a 10-bout card that included regular boxing, Muay Thai and kickboxing. “There’s no doubt that it was the best fight of the night.”

Ward is not the first woman boxer that Gilkey has trained, but he said she is his first female boxer of Osage descent. He said her late start will mean that her fighting career needs to be accelerated.

“She needs to learn to pace herself more, but I think she will improve rapidly if we can get her fights,” the trainer/manager said. “Everything else is fine — she moves well, punches with power and throws good combinations.”

He said Ward’s first fight came on short notice. As a result, she was about five pounds over her optimum (140-pound) weight. She weighed in at 145 at McAlester, while her opponent was 145.

Ward was already in good shape when she went into training. Over the past four years, her physical development has been helped due to her job at the former Boys and Girls Club — now known as the Wah-Zha-Zhe Youth Academy. She said she went to Gilkey’s gym looking to shake up her workout routine.

“I’d been working out two or three times a week and felt like I’d reached a plateau,” said Ward. “At first, it was just another workout.”

Ward said that, as her endurance increased, she began thinking about trying boxing or kickboxing. She was not sure if she could be successful as a fighter, however. The Pawhuska High School graduate had not participated in sports. At the start of her sophomore year, a toxic-shock condition resulted in loss of part of the fingers on both of her hands.

“I wasn’t that good of an athlete, anyway,” Ward said. “And, after going through that, I didn’t even want to try.”

She started to get serious about working out after having a baby. Ward has a 6-year-old daughter named Cambree.

“Once I got started, it all kind of snowballed,” Ward added.

Gilkey said he is hoping to get Ward back in the ring soon as soon as possible. He said she is now working out mainly as a regular boxer, although he thinks she could also be successful in kickboxing.