Susan Merlucci-Reno is a boxing coach at the Fire Department of New York. The boxing team named “Bravest Boxing Squad”, consists of men and women who risk their lives the look after the City of New York. Susan, who was a professional boxer, is highly regarded by those she coaches, and their opponents!
FCN Blogger Rachel Bower, herself a boxing coach, recently attended an event at the FDNY and interviewed Susan exclusively for the FCN.
I’ve bumped into Susan Merlucci-Reno, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) boxing coach, at a couple of international events over the years. I first noticed her wrapping a fighter’s hands as I warmed up for my bout in the World Police and Fire Games in New York in 2011. Back then there were very few women involved in boxing and even less in coaching so she really made an impression.
She is a New York Golden Gloves Champion and former professional boxer who is now a Boxing and Muay Thai trainer, Functional Range Conditioning Specialist and experienced cut person for Boxing, Thai Boxing & MMA.
I was recently lucky enough to help host the FDNY for the weekend when they came over to the UK to box against the Metropolitan Police so got to speak to Susan about her experiences coaching the team and how she fell into coaching. I started by asking how she began boxing.
“I spent many years practicing Muay Thai simply because I loved it, having no intention of fighting. After telling my coach that I wanted to see if I could keep up with what the fighters were doing, I more than kept up and accumulated a 4-1 record. However, … I didn’t really kick anyone, I just punched. My then friend, now husband (Mike Reno) and my brother convinced me to switch to boxing. I fell in love-the rhythm and the fast pace hooked me!”
She didn’t regret the switch and soon began racking up accolades; not only winning the Golden Gloves, boxing at the world-famous Madison Square Garden but also beating a heavier, more experienced and younger, two-time Golden Gloves Champion in a bout that she wasn’t supposed to win. However, Susan’s age meant a lack of opponents in the Amateurs as at that time boxers between 34 and 40 had to compete in a Masters division. She quickly solved that problem by turning professional. The decision to turn pro was purely because I wanted to keep fighting and testing myself. I knew there would be no money in it but I felt the experience would be valuable in and out of the ring.
Susan didn’t set out to be a boxing coach. She tells me she often has a chuckle when it occurs to her that “I am in charge. I am the coach. I know what I am doing!“. I am sure many coaches reading this can relate to her when she says there is always so much to learn but when I look back on my career I draw confidence from my own experience and I am happy to share what I have learned so far. The FDNY Bravest Boxing team have always supported women’s boxing and made sure to put women on their shows. During my amateur career, I was always happy to fight for Bravest Boxing. Once I turned pro, I stayed on the team as a coach. All coaching is done on a volunteer basis and all boxers train on their own free time. Our Team motto is we will fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, for a good cause. We are a non-profit organization and proceeds raised by our team?s events are donated to the Building Homes for Heroes charity.
One of the things that quickly becomes apparent while watching Susan in action is that she is very highly regarded by both boxers and other coaches. Hardly surprising for someone with her experience and knowledge as a coach but I wonder if she feels that her gender has ever affected her coaching career. The answer is a resounding:
“No. I’ve never been treated as a female coach. In my martial arts/Muay Thai background and the FDNY Boxing Team I am fortunate that I have always felt respected. I love it when one of my students or fighters tell me Hey! That thing you taught us the other day works! I tried it in sparring and it works! That’s pretty satisfying.”
And that’s where the respect comes from, Susan certainly knows her stuff. I ask about her future coaching plans and she tells me that she still trains, continuing to learn and sharpen her skills so she can pay it forward to anyone she works with. As her current training partner is the two-time World Champion Joan Guzman I can imagine she is still pretty sharp! On top of her commitment with the FDNY team she is also busy with Muay Thai fighters and a handful of boxers in the gym she works at in lower Manhattan.?Noticing that more and more women were interested in learning to fight she recently joined forces with five-time WBC Champion Alicia Ashley with whom she runs a weekly class teaching defence and footwork. Susan is keen to continue to grow the sport not just for women, but as a whole especially in today’s climate where boxing seems to be losing popularity to MMA in the States.
Finally, I enquire about her relationship with the FDNY Head Coach, her husband Mike Reno. They met in the mid-90’s training Muay Thai with British & European Champion, Phil Nurse and were friends and training partners for a decade before dating.I ask how the coaching dynamic works for them. Mike and I work seamlessly together. We have known each other for so long and been a part of each other’s camps over the years. I feel like you see the best and worst of a person in a fight camp so we knew exactly what we were getting in each other. He was my main coach in the amateurs as well as the pros. That being said, he has always encouraged me to train with other coaches and learn more than what he knows. There is no ego. We both want our fighters to do better than we did and have greater success than our own. I suspect it’s their selfless attitude and lack of ego that make their coaching partnership a successful one. Along with Bobby McGuire, the club’s president, and a handful of other dedicated coaches they have a very successful and tightly knit squad. People often ask if Mike and I have children and we respond Yep, about 25 of em! They all have their individual quirks and personalities and talents. Mom and dad just have to figure out what each one needs to be at their best.
Author: Rachel Bower, is a boxing coach at Earlsfield ABC. A former National Champion and England representative she now coaches Novice to Elite Amateur boxers at club level, the London Female Squad and the Metropolitan Police boxing team. She also holds a position on the England Boxing Coach Education Sub Committee.
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