Seattle's Underwood sisters endured years of sexual abuse from their father. Now Hazzauna struggles to join her younger sister, Queen, in London as Queen tries to win an Olympic medal in boxing.
Queen Underwood is going to London. Her older sister should be, too.
Underwood, from Seattle, will be part of history as a member of the first group of female boxers competing in an Olympic Games.
Her sister, Hazzauna Underwood, 30, doesn’t box, but shares her sister’s gritty resolve as a survivor of sexual and physical abuse by their father. He first raped Hazzauna when she was 12, according to a New York Times story.
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She endured it in hopes of protecting her little sister, who is two years younger. But eventually, Queen, whose first name is Quanitta, became a victim, too. Her father started abusing her when she was in seventh grade.
Queen was reluctant to talk about their horrible history. But it has become part of who she is, in the ring and out, she said. She and Hazzauna finally spoke out because they wanted to help other victims.
“I don’t regret anything that I talked about,” Queen said from Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs before leaving for England on Saturday. “I feel it has opened up eyes (of) a lot of my supporters, and people who haven’t even supported me before…
“So I don’t look at it as a negative at all. If anything, it made me stronger outside the ring.” According to The New York Times story, their father, Azzad, was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years probation for “criminal sexual conduct with a minor.” He is out of prison now, but “there’s no communication” with him, said Hazzauna.
For years, Hazzauna has been her chief protector and supporter, even before women’s boxing was added to the 2012 Olympic calendar in 2009.
Now Hazzauna is trying to scrape together enough money, about $4,000, to see Queen’s biggest triumph in person.
Today, she is a big sister to Queen, 28, who will often ask Hazzauna for advice on things, like buying a car, and which insurance to purchase.
“Quanitta relies on her a lot,” said their mom, Alonna Craddock. “They’re very close. … It had a lot to do with the dynamics of the household. She was protecting her sister for a long time.”
The childhood dread and fear they once shared has bonded them. Now adults, the sisters are their own support network.
“We’re able to understand what we’ve gone through,” Hazzauna said. “It’s hard for others outside looking in why a person thinks the way we think. We lean on each other a lot in that respect.”
Since the story ran in The New York Times, the sisters received dozens of emails and Facebook posts from people who either silently suffered from abuse or hoped to help others who were victims, Hazzauna said.
“I think it opened eyes to the world we live in,” she said. “It makes you feel like it wasn’t in vain.”
Queen is one of three female boxers on the U.S. team. She’ll fight in the 132-pound class. Other Americans are Marlen Esparza (112 pounds) and Claressa Shields (165 pounds).
“I believe every one has a chance to medal,” said Basheer Abdullah, U.S. Olympic boxing coach.
Hazzauna works the night shift as an emergency-room nurse at Harborview Medical Center. Between work and being a single mom for two kids, Hazzauna does what she can to help Queen.
“We have always had each other,” Queen said.
Hazzauna has been helping her sister manage the roller-coaster ride to the Olympics. She answers email, manages her Facebook page, replies to inquiries from sponsors and media, and deals with autograph requests that come in the mail — if she can find time among all of her other responsibilities, that is.
“It’s a full-time job,” Queen said. “I’m really kind of an introverted person, not much of a talker.”
Queen ranks No. 10 in the world, down from No. 4 after becoming the only American to win a medal (bronze) in an Olympic weight class at the 2010 world championships.
That’s where Queen, a five-time U.S. champion, rallied from a 10-point deficit — nearly unheard of in amateur boxing — to take the lead against top-ranked Katie Taylor of Ireland before Taylor unleashed a flurry in the final seconds to win, 18-16. This spring, Taylor lobbied for Queen to earn an Olympic berth because she knew the field wouldn’t be legitimate without her.
“They know she’s coming,” Abdullah said. “They know she’s a big threat. Not many people sitting there want to draw Queen.”
Queen played basketball at Garfield High School and drew attention from college coaches as a track sprinter. At 18, she started to box at Cappy’s Boxing Gym in the Central District.
“She calls me and says, ‘I’m boxing now,’ ” said Hazzauna, who was a Washington State nursing student at the time. “I thought, ‘So you want to get your head hit? You want memory loss?’ “
Hazzauna eventually came around, but that was the least of Queen’s obstacles on her journey.
Laid off from her job as a pipe-fitter, she eked out a living on USA Boxing’s stipend and unemployment checks. A fundraising effort led by a local gym fizzled. She moved to Colorado in December to train for February’s Olympic Trials in Spokane and won.
But she needed an additional top-eight finish in an international qualifying tournament in China to make the U.S. Olympic team. In May, Queen lost a one-point decision and fell just short.
The international federation could award an at-large berth if another country couldn’t fill its quota. But first she had to wait.
“It felt like hell, just to wait and not know,” she said. “My sister described me as a helium balloon, just deflating day by day. It was awful.”
Three weeks later, on June 18 — less than a month before the team left for England — she learned she’d be one of 12 lightweights battling for gold.
“She’s looking good,” Abdullah said last week. “It doesn’t take long for Queen to get in shape. She’s a workaholic. She works very hard every day. She’s always intense. She sets very high goals for herself.
“She’s going to take advantage of this opportunity she’s been blessed with. She’s still considered to be one of the best in the world.”
Queen doesn’t want to talk about how she got here or who she has to beat to win a medal. Katie Taylor. Dong Cheng. Whatever.
“The goal is always the gold,” Queen said. “Being the best that I can be. I’m not going out there just to take a trip to London. I’m going out there to fight hard, and really put myself out there as being the best.
“It starts with myself. If myself is strong, I can’t be beat.”
The Underwood sisters know all about that.