Woman’s path to ring began on 9/11


There’s a kick-boxing card at Planet Hollywood on Saturday night featuring an undercard fight between women making their professional debuts. One is Colleen Schneider of Oakland, Calif. The other is Jennie Nedell from the incorporated village of Lindenhurst, N.Y.

I know nothing about Colleen Schneider, other than she is from Oakland, or at least lists Oakland as her hometown. So she’s probably pretty tough.

I know that Jennie Nedell’s father died on 9/11. So this column mostly will be about her. And about her father, whose name was Larry.

Larry Nedell was the one who taught his daughter how to fight.

He was 52 years old, an insurance writer for the Aon Corporation in the south tower when the first plane plowed into the north tower. He was in a meeting then, on the 102nd floor. He called Jennie’s mom, Lorraine, to tell her he loved her.

He could have evacuated the building. Instead, Larry Nedell returned to the 92nd floor to help a colleague with poor vision.

When the second plane hit the south tower, Larry Nedell and his co-worker were in a stairwell around 70 floors up.

And now Jennie Nedell has a tattoo of those towers with angel wings on the inside of her wrist; and now, on Saturday, she will make her pro fighting debut some 13 years after her dad took her to the gym for the first time after she said she wanted to lose some weight.

That tattoo and this fight against the tough girl from Oakland is a way for her to keep her father’s memory alive, she said by telephone. Absolutely it is.

“He’s my inspiration; he’s my hero; he’s my driving force,” she said. “We started doing this together. I took a year or two off after he passed, but then I said he wouldn’t want me to give up. I gotta go after it full force.”

And that explains why Jennie Nedell will be fighting for the first time as a pro at age 35. She’s probably too old to become Ronda Rousey. But there are other reasons to fight. There is her father’s memory.

Yes, it is a bittersweet memory, but that’s why there are boxing gyms, and that’s why there are heavy bags inside those gyms, and speed bags, and even a door to a locker every now and then.

“Some people have a therapist. I punch things,” Nedell said.

“When I’m having a bad day, I go to the gym. I feel so much better. Some people have spiritual things; I was always daddy’s little girl. I know he’s proud of me, so I’m just going to do the very best I can in this sport for as long as I can.”

Nedell always was an athlete. She was a Junior Olympic softball player. So, as she said, she’s familiar with the bumps and bruises of being an athlete. But she wasn’t familiar with getting punched in the face, at least not literally.

At Lindenhurst Senior High School on Long Island (she was about 25 years behind Pat Benatar, the Grammy Award-winning singer), she was the one who lashed out at bullies when bullies lashed out at others.

“You can’t really prepare yourself for getting punched in the face,” she says. “Either you can take it or you can’t. Lucky for me, I can take it.”

There are many ways to deal with grief. Getting punched in the face is one. Punching somebody else in the face is another one. For many people, this second method is preferred, though I recall a song lyric — a Warren Zevon song lyric, I believe — that says a person would rather feel bad than feel nothing at all.

After her father died in the terrorist attacks, Jennie Nedell was feeling so bad — or feeling nothing at all — that she and a friend tried to join the Army. The recruiter told her she couldn’t just join the Army and hunt down those responsible for killing her father and all the others, because that takes special training.

So she ultimately took a job with Suffolk County Fire and Rescue and Emergency Service.

It’s an office job, in administration, but it’s in fire and rescue, and people back there have a healthy respect for fire and rescue people, as you might imagine, and for those who provide emergency service.

Jennie Nedell was at the office when we talked. After work, she says, she goes straight to the gym, and she’s there all weekend. When she punches stuff, she thinks of her father.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.