College alumna Sumya Anani, is the owner of Learning2Fly, a community aerial, fitness and spiritual center in Mission. She is licensed by Hay House as a Heal Your Life workshop leader, life coach and business success coach. Hay House is an enterprise founded in 1984 by author Louise Hay that teaches master classes on mind-body-spirit transformation. Anani is also, an assistant adjunct professor of physical education who teaches weight training and yoga at the college.
One of her favorite quotes is by an unknown author: “Yoga is the martial art of the soul and your opponent is the strongest you’ve ever faced: your ego.”
Anani believes spirituality is the crown of life and we are all here on an expedition of discovering ourselves, developing our gifts and empowering others. One of the many ways she helps others achieve this is through teaching.
“I love teaching at [the college], I love working with yoga, teaching yoga and weight training,” Anani said. “There is a very diverse age range of students in my classes. I’ve got traditional college age and I’ve got students in their sixties and seventies. … I feel like it is about empowering people through movement and empowering people through health.”
“Herstory” refers to history from the female perspective; it includes the side of history involving women that is typically left out of historical narratives. Even though Anani is a strong, sensitive, highly skilled and disciplined female athlete, entrepreneur and educator, she like so many women, is overcoming cultural and societal pressures and conditioning.
“… For thousands of years the patriarchy has been dominant,” Anani said. “I think learning to speak up for ourselves as women, is just something [that is] so needed. I think we are seeing it [more] now in the world, but it was something that was definitely not easy for me. As women we tend to play small. I don’t want to be too bright because someone else might feel insecure around me. Women are the connectors of the family, we are the ones who bring people together, we don’t want anyone to feel insecure, we want everyone to feel empowered. I think for me it has really been a journey. I know I’m still on it because I haven’t conquered it. [I am still developing] the ability to really use my voice the way I want to.”
What many of her students don’t know is, Island Girl, as Anani is known in the boxing world, holds four world championship titles in three different classes of women’s boxing. In 2019, she was inducted into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame.
Additionally, The International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, made the historical announcement that they will be immortalizing the careers of two women boxers for the first time in their three-decade history. Anani was among the first female boxers in history placed on the 2020 ballot to be recognized with the ranks of male boxing greats such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Anani did not win the vote in the first round, but she remains a future contender on the merit of her outstanding career record of 28 wins, three losses, one draw and 11 knockouts. Toward the end of her career, it was difficult for her to get fights because she was nearly unbeatable in the ring. She retired in 2006.
There is a lot of egoic, competitive posturing in professional sports but that wasn’t Anani’s approach to the sport or life. She had great respect for her opponents as athletes, and the only competition she faced was herself.
“The Apollo engineers said, ‘Ruthlessly compete with your own best self.’ Can I be a better fighter in this moment than I was yesterday?’” Anani said. “I never one time, in my whole 10-year career, never once was I competing with the woman across the ring.”
“Yoga gives you a [heightened] level of concentration and awareness,” Anani said. “As an athlete, you’ve got to face your fears, whether you are in a competitive experience or just in life…and every single woman needs to know how to defend herself.”
Bhavani Maki, Anani’s mentor, said, “Yoga is the practice of releasing all self-negating, self- destroying and self-limiting thoughts.”
“…For thousands of years, yoga has known this, Anani said. “Science is just now catching up going, ‘yeah, there is really power in your thoughts. Every cell in our bodies are listening. So, we’ve got to stop criticizing our bodies, we’ve got to stop criticizing our gifts. We’ve got to stop comparing ourselves to other people…. It’s toxic. Our life is to explore our talents, our gifts, our treasures.”
“When you are focusing on your body and on your breath, you start paying attention to your mind, the thoughts that you are thinking,” Anani continued. “Are these thoughts helping you or are they doubts? I was scared. Boxing was dangerous…My training [was] with my mind and focusing on my affirmations. The crux of my confidence came from my training.”
According to Anani, boxing brought her masculine and feminine power into balance in the world and challenged her physical potential. “Marianne Williamson tells us, ‘If you are a woman in this lifetime, you are majoring in femininity and minoring in masculinity and if you’re a man the reverse is true.’” Anani said. “Nobody trained like I did. I was so disciplined. It really gave me a lot of confidence and I was so confident in my boxing trainer, Barry Becker.”
Anani didn’t grow up with a male role model and credits Becker with being one of the most important men in her life. Becker was a trainer at Bally’s gym where Anani trained. He repeatedly told her she could be a world champion boxer. She didn’t take it seriously until he arranged her first fight.
“First Barry was my coach, then my good friend, my boyfriend, my son’s father, my hero,” Anani said. “He helped reparent me in so many ways. He is a Kansas City Golden Gloves Champion… His confidence in me, to have someone believe in me like that is really special.”
At the induction ceremony for the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame, Anani quoted Maya Angelou: “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.”
“It takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole village to train a champion,” Anani said. “It takes a whole village to do anything now a days. I am so completely aware of that. It is a real honor to have so many shoulders I’ve stood upon.”
The college has played a major role in her life. One of the villagers that raised this champion was the college’s head strength training coach, Istvan Javorek, also known as Stevie, who has since retired. Anani met Javorek as a student in 1992. She lived in Jamaica after graduation, then reconnected with him when she started boxing in 1996. He mentored her for 27 years. She said, “Stevie was a huge part of my herstory.”
It was Becker who taught Anani the power of one that one person’s belief in us can water a seed of greatness and change the trajectory of our lives. She empowers her students to discover their own passions and potential.
“Living life is the highest form of art,” Anani said. “Art is a really big part of empowering people.”
As the final project, her yoga students make vision boards representing alignment with their own seven chakra energy centers. The walls of her Learning2Fly studio are adorned with art gifted to her by her former and repeating students.
“As teachers, we really do often teach the lessons we still need to learn,” Anani said. “I am still learning. It has really been a journey for me to use my voice the way that I want to…Empowering people through health and teaching them about the power of their mind, teaching them they are a powerful force, a powerful positive force to be reckoned with in the world. Your voice matters, your unique history, [our] herstory, it matters.”
Story by Penny Thieme