From a Groupon class to national Golden Gloves title shows the determination of Eden Prairie native
Arika Skoog, an Eden Prairie High School 2011 grad, moved to Boston to pursue an accelerated Masters Degree in early 2015.
What she found has changed her life, quite literally, thanks to a Groupon deal for a boxing class that propelled her to a Golden Gloves national title in the 141 pound division in July, her fourth boxing title in only eight career bouts.
She’s 8-0 so far after winning the national title in Florida.
David Skoog, her father simply explained: “She’s just driven, has a passion.”
Her mother, Yasemin, has been there for several of her bouts and jumped on board the idea. “She’s been my rock through it all – blood, sweat and tears. I always call her, sometimes its just overwhelming, the mental aspect.”
To help cover expenses to compete in Florida, Skoog built a GoFundMe page looking to reach $4,000. It took her eight months to raise over $4,300 from 78 donors as she wrote: “Boxing has changed my life. It has become my biggest passion, drive and focus.”
Realizing the support she’s received in the form of donations through the website has reassured her.
“That’s humbling,” she added. “I’ve had some trouble along the way and seeing that support shows me how many people are behind me and really helped me push harder at nationals.”
“I never thought I’d be boxing in general,” she said as her first fight was in November after extensive training from Kilbert “Kil” Pierce, owner of Kil-ing It Boxing. “It’s crazy to squeeze eight (bouts) in and it’s even more incredible that I’ve been winning them all.”
Her first title was at the Rocky Marciano tournament followed by 141-pound novice division New England Golden Gloves titles. She won the Central New England title followed by the All-New England Championship to qualify for the national tournament in Florida.
At nationals, she opened with a third-round Technical Knockout of her Georgia opponent despite coming into the tournament with an injured elbow.
A week before nationals she, “felt one of the worst pains I’ve felt in my life,” during a sparring session. A change to strategy was in the plans but Skoog decided to stay with the plan and not miss a punch with that injured elbow. “I tried to fight more inside and not extend my arm,” she explained.
“Getting my first TKO was a great start and energized me for the next fight,” she explained as her semifinal against an Ohio fighter also ended with a TKO after four standing-eight counts.
“That first-night TKO validated the short punches for me and gave me a lot of confidence,” Skoog said, relying on icing her elbow as much as possible to keep the swelling down.
She squared up against a local Florida boxer in the final who won her semifinal with a first-round knockout. “I was feeling good but nervous,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page about the experience. “It was a tough fight (she) was a solid fighter but by sticking to our game plan I was able to pull away with a decision.”
Skoog came into that first class in decent shape but getting into fighting shape takes a different discipline.
“It’s a whole lifestyle change, not just in what you eat but I look out for myself so much more. I never go out on the weekend drinking with friends because I don’t want that in my system for the next day of training. I’m more attentive with myself to be good,” she said learning the sport under the tutelage of Pierce who was a sparring partner with Mike Tyson .
Mentally, being in fighting shape, Skoog explains: “Just believing in myself. When it gets down to it, both (boxers) are in great shape but it comes down to who has the stronger will to win and if you can break that, you will usually pull out the win.”
Finding that inner fighter mentality is something, Skoog believes, is something you are born with.
A distant cousin of her father is Whitney Skoog, who was a standout basketball player with the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s. He’s been credited for creating the jump shot and went on to a coaching career at Gustavus Adolphus College.
“I’ve never been in a street fight,” she said. “But I’m able to be a boxer and that instinct was imprinted into me – we all go through tough times or had family matters that pushed me to learn how to push or rely on myself.”
Skoog hasn’t come out on the losing end of a match yet but took her share of blows along the way, both in training and live bouts.
“I’ve never worried about getting hit,” she said after taking her share of licks growing up on a skateboard with an older brother. “I’ve always played rough with him so I’m most worried about my performance in the ring.
“I’m already so hard on myself. Taking punches isn’t what hurts, it’s disappointing myself, my coach and my family… I never want to walk away feeling I could have done something more.”
Change of plans
With her Masters in Business degree in hand from Hult International School, Skoog planned to return to Southern California to resume her work in the music business.
She was a standout lacrosse and soccer player at Eden Prairie, earning a scholarship to play lacrosse at Whittier College near Los Angeles, California where she completed her undergraduate work.
Ever since growing up in Eden Prairie Skoog recalled always training toward something, either a sport or class project. Fast forward to graduate school in Boston and she was a regular at the gym but, “I was sick of it because I was training by myself, not with anyone else so I decided to try a boxing class, nothing too serious,” she added. “It would be a good chance to motivate me to work harder and try different things. I’ve always been interested in boxing but my parent’s didn’t want me to get into it.”
Skoog’s aim is to continue progressing as a fighter, perhaps leading to a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She has a New England qualifying tournament in September followed by an Eastern Regional in Tennessee to earn a spot in the field for the USA Boxing Nationals and eventually turning pro, if the opportunity arises.
After boxing, Skoog hopes to but her degrees to good use and help people out at the same time. Her goal is to open the sport to more women through opening boxing gyms geared to women in lower-income neighborhoods.
“I want to instill that Fighter’s Mentality to help them get through life and persevere through their challenges with a goal of eventually develop them into pro fighters,” she said.
Follow Jason Olson on Twitter @SunSportsJason.