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Monday, August 6, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.

Strangers' gifts send boxer Queen Underwood's sister to London

By Don Shelton
Seattle Times sports editor

Hazzauna Underwood discovered several reasons why she couldn't go to London to watch her little sister compete in the Olympic Games — money, work, two young daughters.

Yet those reasons disappeared because of something else, something as uplifting as how two sisters overcame past abuse, and as unexpected as their path to healing — the generosity of strangers.

Hazzauna leaves for London on Friday and will be ringside Sunday when her sister, Queen, has her first bout in Olympic women's boxing. How both sisters found their way to London is the latest chapter of their unlikely story.

When a July 20 Seattle Times story explained that Hazzauna, 30, couldn't afford to travel to the Olympics, readers began sending money and support. She says she received about two dozen donations worth several thousand dollars.

Cappy's Boxing Gym on Capitol Hill, where Queen learned the sport, paid for her Olympics tickets. Another Seattle company, which wished to remain anonymous, paid for her accommodations and upgraded her airfare. Someone else sent $8.

Hazzauna still can't believe her good fortune.

"I think it's truly a blessing that people found in their hearts to give assistance to someone they didn't even know," said the introverted Hazzauna. "I wasn't expecting anything at all. At first, it was a little embarrassing, but it ended up being a positive thing.

"I'm so appreciative of everything, even the smallest amount. Anything anyone was able to give, they gave from their hearts, and that's all that matters."

Queen Underwood, a 5-foot-6, 132-pound boxer who went to Garfield High School, is considered a dark horse to win a medal in the first Olympics with women's boxing.

In what some consider the toughest opening-round draw, she faces medal contender Natasha Jonas of Great Britain — not to mention her opponent's rowdy home fans — at 6:30 a.m. PDT Sunday. If Queen wins, she would box No. 1-seeded Katie Taylor of Ireland, a four-time world champion, on Monday.

"She's going from one top person to the No. 1," U.S. assistant coach Gloria Peek told The Associated Press. "Queen can rise to the occasion, though. She has done it before, and she can do it again."

Long odds mean little to the Underwood sisters, who have had to overcome obstacles all their lives. They survived sexual and physical abuse from their father as they grew up, according to a story in The New York Times. Hazzauna was first raped when she was 12 but endured the ongoing abuse hoping Queen, younger by two years, wouldn't suffer the same fate. But eventually Queen, whose first name is Quanitta, was abused, too, beginning in seventh grade.

The sisters' bond is a strong one, which made Hazzauna's story of not being able to see Queen's finest athletic moment so irresistible.

"Knowing what they've been through, they need to be together," said Amanda Licorish, Hazzauna's close friend.

"It's hard to understand the bond we have," Hazzauna said. "I guess there is a special bond that's created when you've endured certain things in life. It's kind of like a lock and key."

Offers of help showed up on Queen's Facebook page as soon as the story was published. Hazzauna calls the response "awesome, an outpouring of hope."

Other problems had to be worked out, though. Hazzauna is a registered nurse who works the night shift at Harborview Medical Center, and she is a single mom to two daughters, ages 7 and 8. Her supervisor moved her shifts to accommodate the trip, and relatives will watch her daughters during her weeklong absence.

Her flight through Philadelphia leaves Friday morning and arrives in London on Saturday. She returns a week later, Aug. 10.

Queen was thrilled to find out her big sister could come, Hazzauna said; her daughters, not so much.

"They're excited, but they want to go," she said of Ahjanai, 8; and Orlaan, 7.

The whole experience has reinforced Hazzauna's belief in the goodness of others, something that was tested during the sisters' horrific childhoods.

"Awesome," is the word Hazzauna uses to describe the outpouring of support. And that word is how she describes the support she and her sister always have provided each other.

"I think it's awesome how we've been each other's support system and backbone for umpteen years," Hazzauna said. "It's her road, but she wants me there in her corner. I'm excited to be there and support her in such a fundamental and awesome accomplishment. This is once in a lifetime."

She hopes her sister wins, of course, and maybe even brings home a medal. But that, Hazzauna Underwood insists, isn't what's important.

"She's a winner at heart," she says of her little sister. "Nothing else matters at the end of the day."


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