Andrea DeAngelo may not have known it at the time, but growing up there was something missing in her life.
Sure, she came from a stable home where her parents gave her plenty of encouragement and support. Like many girls her age, she was involved in sports. She started playing softball at four years old and was passionate about it until the age of 15.
However, it was around that time she made a discovery that would change everything.
DeAngelo found the missing ingredient in her life in the most unexpected of places: a kickboxing ring. One weekend during ninth grade, the 15 year-old DeAngelo made her amateur kickboxing debut against a girl around her age. When it was all over, she found her arm raised in victory after scoring a unanimous decision.
That was it for the softball diamond.
"The thrill in the ring was amazing," DeAngelo remembers. "It was just so surreal. That whole weekend was like living in that dream of what I had accomplished. Then when I went back to school on Monday it was like, 'Oh, reality's back.'
"It was all I could think about," she continues. "I knew there was something missing and I had found it."
"From that point on that's what I knew I wanted to do"
Kickboxing proved to be an excellent fit for DeAngelo, who in addition to softball, had trained in martial arts such as kyokushin karate growing up. Over the year following her amateur debut, she dedicated herself to training and began picking up more fights.
It wasn't long before this experience paid off. At 16 she fought for the Tri-State United States Kickboxing Association (USKA) title against a 34 year-old opponent.
While you may think fighting a full grown woman with years of experience would be enough to have most 16 year-old girls second guessing what they were getting themselves into, this wasn't the case with DeAngelo.
"At 16 you're so fearless," she reflects. "There's nothing that bothers you. I just remember training so hard and knowing I did everything I could to do to either beat this girl or lose to her. I was going to leave it all in the ring. Even though she had a little more experience than me, I had to make my mark if I was going to continue in this sport. It was never about age, or it being intimidating to me."
The result? DeAngelo ended up defeating her opponent by unanimous decision and winning her first of many titles.
"It was awesome," she recalls. "I was in dreamland for awhile"
From there she continued dedicating herself to the sport she felt was her calling in life. She racked up wins in shows held around her native New York, neighboring states, and in Canada. Soon, kickboxing would eventually end up providing a living for DeAngelo as well.
She began by teaching her own kickboxing classes. Soon she developed enough of a client base that opening up her own gym, Champion Fitness Center in Brooklyn, seemed to be a logical next step. With a flourishing business that kept her close to the sport she loves, things seemed to be going well for the young DeAngelo.
Then, disaster struck.
Not only was her every possession destroyed thanks to ceiling-high flood water in her apartment, a result of the Hurricane Sandy super storm, but the gym she had worked so hard to build had also been totaled.
"When we got here there was about four feet of water," she recalls. "We needed to redo the whole place, mats, bags, the whole thing. The ring even rotated and shifted across the room from the water pressure. It was crazy."
Making matters worse, DeAngelo didn't have flood insurance, so she had to pay for the costs of renovating the gym out of pocket.
As if that wasn't bad enough, she was also dealing with an injury at the time -- her arm was in a sling due to pulled ligaments and tendons in her elbow -- but had an impending World Kickboxing Association (WKA) title fight coming up against former champion Tara Smith.
"In the very beginning it was very difficult to stay positive," DeAngelo admits when talking about her emotions in the days following the storm. "Every single thing that could have possibly went wrong, went wrong in that training camp. I was so doubtful that I wasn't going to be able to mentally handle it."
Despite the bad hand she had been dealt by fate, DeAngelo decided to go through with the fight after a talk with her trainer Louis Neglia. She ended up defeating Smith by unanimous decision and retaining the WKA title.
"It felt really good," DeAngelo says of the win. " It just proved that if you really set your mind to something, no matter how many hardships come your way, if you push through it and you believe in yourself and you have the proper support around you anything is possible."
It's a lesson the 25 year old has carried with into her in the months following the destructive hurricane.
"Ever since that fight and that feeling my mental game has been so on," DeAngelo reflects "I think I matured so much and mentally grew so much since that devastation."
Now DeAngelo has a new goal she is focusing that single-minded determination on: bringing women's kickboxing into the mainstream with GLORY World Series, which airs this Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 on Spike TV. Although DeAngelo is on the unaired preliminary portion of the card, she wants to put on a statement in her fight against Anna Shearer that convinces GLORY to shine a bigger spotlight on female fighters.
"I can't wait to make my mark in GLORY," DeAngelo says. "I want a women's division so we can fight in the tournaments."
Although there may be some skeptics who doubt the appeal female fighters hold for combat sports fans, DeAngelo isn't one of them.
"Everyone expects a guy to be able to throw a punch," she says "but when they see a girl throw a punch it really wows people."
"You're in competition with the guys, you want to make your mark. Girl fights are the best. Girls fight with heart and determination because we have something to prove."
DeAngelo will have a chance to prove women are here to stay in kickboxing when she takes on Shearer this Saturday at GLORY 12: "New York," which takes place at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
As a native New Yorker, fighting in the legendary MSG is still something DeAngelo is blown away by.
"This is like a dream come true," she says. "It's so surreal. I feel completely honored."