El Camino Colleges boxing instructor Rachel Pittock demonstrates a punching combo with a student on Thursday, March 21. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)
El Camino College’s boxing instructor Rachel Pittock demonstrates a punching combo with a student on Thursday, March 21. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)

Punching Barriers: A coach’s plan to take El Camino boxing to the national stage

Early 2000s hip-hop plays on the speaker as students learn the fundamentals of boxing.

The music is interrupted by a boxing bell, which indicates when to change exercises.

The students practice head movement, footwork, punching combinations and shadow boxing. Whenever students arrive late to class, they are forced to do pushups for every minute they miss.

Coach Rachel Pittock teaches the boxing class. She has been an adjunct professor at El Camino College since the summer of 2019.

In a male-dominated sport such as boxing, many assume she is male.

“Every email I get is like, ‘Hi, Mr. Pittock, I want to take your class,’” Pittock said.

At least once a semester, she will get asked if she is the boxing coach.

A recent recipient of the Distinguished Women Award from El Camino College in March 2024, she plans to take El Camino boxing to the national stage.

Pittock said there has been a slow increase in the number of female students taking boxing classes during her time at El Camino.

El Camino College's boxing instructor and boxing club advisor, Rachel Pittock, center, demonstrates proper form with a student on March 21. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)
El Camino College’s boxing instructor and boxing club advisor, Rachel Pittock, center, demonstrates proper form with a student on March 21. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)

“I’m seeing more participation from females. I think when I first started there was maybe only one or two females in my class now all my classes have three or four,” Pittock said.

She wishes that more women felt comfortable and confident joining the boxing class.

“Boxing is for everyone; it’s not just for men, it’s not just for people who work out and lift,” the boxing coach said.

Her boxing journey began while she was attending UC Santa Barbara.

She began training others at Duke’s Boxing & Fitness in Isla Vista at 18 and coached at Duke’s boxing gym to pay for the gym membership at 19 — a sign of what would come later in her career.

Eager to get in the ring, Pittock said she would train and spar with the men at her gym.

She got her amateur card to compete not long after joining Duke’s.

She said she did not feel intimidated being a woman in a male-dominated field. Still, her opportunity to compete in amateur boxing never came due to the lack of women of a similar size in her area to compete against.

“I trained in quite a few fight camps but I never got my first fight, I was never matched during my time there and it was pretty disheartening,” Pittock said. She describes herself as a tomboy and said she’s always been into athletics.

Pittock comes from a large family.

Her mother is Filipino-Portuguese from Hawaii. After graduating high school, she moved to South Bay, where she raised Pittock in Hawthorne.

Pittock said she was also raised by her mom’s side of the family and is very close to them. Her grandma would pick her up from school when she was a child.

She used to play football during elementary and middle school but was told by an athletic director that girls were not allowed to play football.

From there, she pivoted to playing volleyball, beginning from the sixth ind throughout high school. Pittock said she had the opportunity to play volleyball in college but felt “burnt out” by her volleyball coaches. She said that she stopped playinghad sports altogether and went to UC Santhad gonerbara.

Later, she discovered Duke’s boxing gym, reinvigorating her passion for sports.

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in communications, she began training her friends and family to box because she could never find a gym she liked. Pittock said that many of the gyms were cardio-based while she was looking to fight.

Moving back to the South Bay, she trained with a group of Muay Thai fighters.

Although she did not train in Muay Thai, she studied their movement and technique and incorporated some of the skills she learned into her boxing.

Today, she trains at Sweet Science Boxing & MMA in Hawthorne when she has time.

Outside of the gym, Pittock’s passion for sports made her gravitate toward a career in athletics.

Pittock began working in database management at the Special Olympics after working as a teacher’s assistant and in several other jobs.

She did not think having a job in athletics was possible, as her family suggested that she become a teacher or secretary.

“From my predominantly Asian background, it was always expected that I was going to be a teacher or secretary, that was kind of like what my grandma was like,” Pittock said.

While working at the Special Olympics, Pittock returned to school and received her master’s in coaching and athletic administration from Concordia University.

After spending a decade working at the Special Olympics, she oversaw all sports programs in Southern California.

Just before she left in 2018, she was the sports manager for Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley.

She felt exhausted during her time at the Special Olympics because she worked 80 hours a week.

At the time, she was married and considering having a baby.

She has been married since 2013 and has a 3-year-old daughter.

Even now, Pittock said she volunteers for large-scale events at the Special Olympics and runs the volleyball venue.

Pittock said the long working hours had led her to enter education, where she began teaching at St. Catherine LaBoure in Torrance.

Pittock was a PE teacher and is the athletic director at Saint Catherine LaBoure Middle School.

While working at Saint Catherine LaBoure, Pittock came across a faculty member from El Camino College who referred her to an opening as the college’s boxing coach.

When she first arrived in the summer of 2019, Pittock said that El Camino’s boxing program was much larger than it is now.

“Before Covid the boxing program was huge, there were two other teachers, then they brought me on,” Pittock said.

In spring 2020, El Camino had eight boxing classes, and in spring 2024, it had six.

She said most of the people taking her class are new to boxing and are looking to get in shape or learn a new skill.

Amber Galloway, 22, a fashion design and production major, said her first boxing class was with Pittock. She had wanted to take boxing classes since high school.

Galloway describes Pittock as funny, dedicated, professional, and skilled. She said Pittock “puts in that work.”

As the adviser for the El Camino Boxing Club, Pittock said that the club has helped El Camino have more boxing classes since the pandemic. The Boxing Club began in the spring semester of 2023.

Chris Garcia, a kinesiology major, one of the founding members, and a trainer for the Boxing Club, said his original idea for creating a club on campus was a weightlifting club.

Garcia said Thanos Sarreas, a co-founding member of the Boxing Club, suggested they create a boxing club at El Camino, and Pittock told them she would be the adviser.

El Camino College's Women's Beach Volleyball teams volunteer assistant coach, Rachel Piittock, posing for photo on El Camino's sand courts, April 1. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)
El Camino College’s Women’s Beach Volleyball teams volunteer assistant coach, Rachel Piittock, posing for photo on El Camino’s sand courts, April 1. (Monroe Morrow | The Union)

“I think it’s nice how she is willing to represent the boxing club so the students have a place to go and box,” Krysti Rosario, El Camino boxing instructor since 2005, said.

Rosario praised Pittock for dedicating her own time to being the Boxing Club adviser.

“It’s her own time that she is giving up when she’s so busy with everything else in her life. With her daughter and her teaching and her volleyball coaching and she’s giving the time for the club and also the fight nights she’s giving her time so that these athletes, these boxers have a place to showcase their talent,” Rosario said.

Outside of being a boxing coach at El Camino, Pittock also is an assistant volunteer coach for the El Camino Women’s Beach Volleyball team at El Camino.

The Boxing Club has organized two fight events since its inception in the spring semester of 2023.

Pittock said she is proud of all her students participating in the boxing club’s fight night events.

Fight nights organized by the Boxing Club are culminating events that showcase students’ skills learned in a sparring bout with family and friends.

Twelve fighters participated in the first fight night and 14 fighters participated in the most recent event on Feb. 24. Pittock said 186 people had paid for tickets to attend the Sweet Science in Hawthrone event.

During sparring sessions, Pittock keeps a keen eye on the students, guiding them, giving them tips and ensuring no one gets injured. Students volunteer to spar with each other and are required to wear mouthguards and headgear.

One of her goals is to compete against other schools.

“The ultimate goal would be to take fighters annually every spring to the collegiate national tournaments that USA Boxing puts on,” she said.

Rosario said Pittock is a “go-getter.”

“Whatever she wants to accomplish, to me, she seems like she’s going to accomplish it,” Rosario said.

In spring 2025, Pittock plans , to take six fighters to compete in the collegiate nationals.

Pittock said it would be El Camino’s first-ever collegiate national boxing team.

Kevin Martinez, 25, a philosophy major, said he took boxing classes before the pandemic with coach Shihan Mitsuru Yamashita, who died in 2021.

Once the pandemic was over and Martinez returned to college, he said he took Pittock’s intermediate boxing class and another boxing class with Rosario. Martinez trains outside El Camino at Sweet Science gym.

Martinez is one of the fighters Pittock plans to take to compete at the collegiate nationals next year.

Rosario said that women’s boxing still faces challenges.

She said women’s boxing fights are not allotted the same duration as men’s boxing.

Women are only allowed two-minute rounds and a maximum of ten rounds, while male boxers compete for twelve rounds, each lasting three minutes.

Rosario said that Women’s boxing at the Olympics did not exist until the summer of 2012.

Pittock said that she thinks many women are interested in boxing and hopes to foster a welcoming environment for them.

“As more people are taking the class, and the popularity is growing, having female teachers, and the adviser of the Boxing Club is female. I think it’s making, hopefully, more females are feeling more confident and comfortable, joining the class,” she said.

Sophia Watari, 19, a chemical engineering major, said she took Pittock’s class in fall 2023.

Watari said she wanted to take it in spring because she enjoys it, which motivates her in the morning.

“I felt very welcomed here, a lot of people are of different skill levels here,” she said.

Pittock said that society has conditioned people to place men and women into preset roles and that she loves that she and Rosario are breaking that boundary.

“Seeing her be the coach instead of, like, I don’t know a guy or something, makes me feel like I want to be like that too,” Watari said.

One reason Pittock thinks boxing is important is that it keeps people in shape and teaches them new skills, discipline, and introspection.

Pittock said competing against someone else in a ring and how one handles adversity forces one to learn about oneself.

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