On any given day, one might see Plattsburgh State freshman Samantha Barcomb walking through the Angell College Center or leaving class in Myers Fine Arts.
Curly hair and smile in place, Samantha, who prefers to go by Sam because of its simplicity, appears to most to be a normal, fresh-faced college student. But unlike many normal, fresh-faced college students, Sam has an unorthodox hobby, a secret identity of sorts: Sam is a boxer — a hand-wrapping, mouth-guard wearing, intensive training boxer.
It all began just last year when Sam, then a senior in high school at Northeastern Clinton Central in Champlain, was torn between three different options for her senior project, a requirement for each student before graduation. Because she felt she wouldn’t be able to find experts for her first two options, gardening or writing a book, Sam went with her third: boxing.
Sam’s mother, Tracy, said that she was surprised when her daughter told her of her interest in the sport. Though she had participated in various team sports and activities throughout high school, Tracy said Sam never had seemed to find the physical activity that really interested her.
“I was on National Honor Society, I was one of ‘those,’” Sam said. “I always tried to get the highest grade I could.”
Looking back at herself now, Sam recalls a reserved teenager who had virtually no self-confidence.
“I’ve always struggled with my weight. That was one of the biggest things to me, and I was a good 50, 60 pounds overweight,” she said. “I hated myself sometimes. So when I started boxing … nothing I’ve ever done has amounted to that. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.”
Sam began training in Altona, a short drive from her home, under Bob Miller, who has watched her progression from rookie to confident fighter closely.
“Sam is just such a happy and personable girl,” Miller said. “At first she was just boxing for her project, but as she got better and better, she decided to enter the ring. That takes a lot of confidence, and she built that up over time.”
Miller also credited Sam’s main trainer, Rafael Marte, with much of her athletic growth.
The first official match Sam had was last summer, half a year after she began training, in Amsterdam, and it was a doozy. To be able to fight her opponent, who was 15 pounds lighter than her, Sam would have to lose 15 pounds in less than two days, which was the date scheduled for the fight. This meant she would be unable to eat or drink anything, and she had to maximize her workouts prior to that day.
“I felt guilty because I ate an ice cube,” Sam said.
After returning home from her training session, she packed on layers of winter clothing and went for a two-mile run.
“I used to watch ‘Rocky,’ so I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m doing it! I’m doing it!’”
Two days later and nearly 15 pounds lighter, Sam and her family traveled to Amsterdam for the fight. Once they arrived, however, they discovered that her opponent had not showed up, and eventually, it was canceled.
Disappointed, Sam was quickly fed Pedialyte to wean her body back onto food because she had been so malnourished for the past two days. Her family then headed to Red Robin for a good meal.
“As soon as I was about to start eating, I get a call from my coach,” she said. “He told me that my opponent had showed up and that my fight was back on.”
The Barcombs returned to the venue and, after some shuffling and anxiety, Sam won her first fight in a technical knock-out.
“It was just amazing to watch,” Tracy said. “It was so great to see all of her hard work paying off.”
Since then, Sam has won both of the matches she fought in and is preparing for four or five more in the summer.
“This has just been an awe-inspiring transformation. I’ve always known what she (Sam) is like, but it’s so wonderful to see her coming out of her shell and gaining confidence,” Tracy said.
Sam said she feels much different than the reserved introvert of her high school days, and chalks this change up to her time boxing.
“I have no problem telling someone how much I weigh,” Sam said. “Boxing is such an empowering thing. It’s not just the physical aspect — it’s 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental. You’ve got to go in having confidence or you’re not going to win. That’s half the battle.”
Email Maggie McVey at firstname.lastname@example.org