Local boxer Abernathy prepares for Reno

Local boxer Sarah Abernathy, right, is seen with Claressa Shields, who won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. (Photo by Special to The Times)

Five or six rounds on the heavy bag, running steps, jumping rope, sparring six rounds and as many as 400 sit-ups.

It’s just all in a day’s work for Sarah Abernathy.

The Hokes Bluff High School sophomore has been training for the 2014 USA Boxing Junior and Youth Open, which is set to begin Monday at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev.

For Abernathy, who boxes out of Crossroads Boxing Gym in Gadsden, it could be a step toward realizing a dream.

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics for it,” said Abernathy, who’s been competing since she was 8 years old. “Now that they finally let female boxers in, it’s kind of getting there.”

Should Abernathy win the 154-pound division next week, she will travel the world and compete for the USA team. That could open the door to being put on the Olympic team, meaning she would be following in the footsteps of one of her heroes.

That hero is Claressa Shields, who became the first American female boxer to compete and win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. Abernathy met Shields after winning the Ringside World Championship over the summer.

“She’s always had a dream,” Abernathy’s mother, Elizabeth Waddell, said. “She wanted to be the first female boxer from Alabama ever to be on the Olympic team.

“She’s a small-town girl, trying to accomplish her dreams.”

It hasn’t been an easy road for Abernathy, like when she was younger and doctors said an ear issue could keep her out of the ring for good, until now when $4,000 needed to be raised to compete in Reno.

And, of course, the training regimen isn’t an easy one.

But along the way, every need has been met. That, matched with Abernathy’s drive and fire within — she’s known as “Nose Buster” — has put the 16-year-old in the spotlight.

Doctors cleared her to box at 8 years old, and she hasn’t looked back. She’s fought 20 times, winning 12 with two knockouts. She’s won several championships and has the belts and medals to prove it. The belt she won at the Ringside World Championships weighs 20 pounds.

Her stepfather, Blake Waddell, is her trainer. He runs Crossroads Boxing Gym with wife, Elizabeth, and watching Abernathy develop in the ring has been remarkable.

“It’s amazing watching her develop,” Blake said. “Now, you can actually see her thinking in the ring and using strategies like the pros use.”

Abernathy admitted her preference is to stand in the ring and “brawl,” but she realizes the need to grow into a technical boxer.

“I’m to the point now where I know I have to move around,” Abernathy said.

Blake said the term for Abernathy’s style is a boxer-puncher.

“It’s somebody who will get inside and fight if they have to but then they’re going to stay outside and actually be a technical boxer if they have to,” Blake said.

One unique thing about Abernathy is after a lot of intense training, she’s learned to fight both right- and left-handed. Because it can be difficult to find other females in her division in Alabama, Abernathy has had to fight the same boxers several times.

“I fought one girl five times,” she said. “The third time I fought her, she started to know what I was doing. In the second round, I just switched over to southpaw.”

It gives her an element of surprise and forces opponents to prepare for both styles, which she hopes to take advantage of next week in Reno.

Another challenge for Abernathy has been finding someone to spar with. She’s advanced to the point where other female boxers at the gym won’t face her, so she spars with the guys.

Her primary sparring partner is Cade Collins, a 155-pound 17-year-old. Neither one holds anything back when they’re in the ring.

“They go wide open,” Elizabeth said.

“He’s the one that really and truly is getting me ready for this,” Abernathy said.

Abernathy also spars with Amber Rockwell, a 23-year-old who boxes at 165 pounds out of Tuscaloosa. The interesting thing about Rockwell is that she’s a friend of Deontay Wilder, a medal winner at the 2008 Summer Olympics who currently has a 30-0 record — all knockouts — as a professional.

Abernathy has gotten to know Wilder who, along with Shields, is one of her role models in the ring.

“He’s really good with amateur boxers,” Abernathy said of Wilder, who attends shows at Crossroads Boxing Gym. “We sat there and had a 20- or 30-minute conversation at our last show just talking about boxing.”

Abernathy will lean on what she’s learned from Wilder, Shields and former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield — who she met at an event in Georgia — along with her trainer, in Reno.

The family flies out of Huntsville on Friday — Abernathy laughingly admitted she’s more nervous about the cross-country flight than the competition — and it’s been a journey trying to raise the necessary funds to make this happen.

They’ve had less than two months to raise the $4,000 needed for the trip, but there never was a question Abernathy was going to make it.

They started doing fundraisers, beginning with selling candles, in which they raised $162.50. Concessions from an event at the gym netted about $47. Not huge amounts, obviously, but every little bit has helped. Many friends and family, as well as businessmen in Gadsden, have donated money toward the trip.

“Everything we’ve done so far, we’ve actually gotten donated,” Elizabeth said.

Again, it’s all going toward a small-town girl — albeit one with a devastating overhand right — who is trying to accomplish her dream.

Earlier this week, Abernathy reflected on why she started boxing.

“I’ve been boxing since I was in diapers, really,” she said. “I think it was to prove myself to people, I really do. People would say, ‘You can’t box, you’re a girl.’ No. I can box. And I’m a girl.”