Image of Hannah Doyle holding her hands in a fighting stance with boxing gloves on them and a boxing ring in the background.
Heavy bag training is part of Doyle’s workout at Elite Boxing & Fitness in North Attleboro, Mass.Photo: David DelPoio
Sports & Recreation

PhD Level Punches
Neuroscience meets boxing

By Noble Brigham ’24 / June–August 2023
June 20th, 2023

Five or six days a week and sometimes twice in one day, neuroscience student Hannah Doyle ’26 PhD, makes the trek from Providence to North Attleboro, Mass., where someone she describes as around 20 pounds heavier than her and “very aggressive” tries to hit her in the head.

That would be her sparring partner—Doyle’s a competitive boxer, recently winning the Southern New England sub-novice Golden Gloves Championship for her weight class. She sees the connections between her sport and her academic work researching how people process sequences, like the steps of making a cup of coffee. And she thinks that insight may make her a better boxer.

“I really liked in boxing how I would learn these combinations of punches and have to perfect them in sequences and then employ them in the ring in order to effectively beat somebody.”

Doyle, who wasn’t an athlete growing up, started boxing just after college at the encouragement of a friend. Then, during the pandemic, she came to Brown to start grad school and found the gym she still attends: Elite Boxing & Fitness. There, Doyle met Mike Cusato, who became her boyfriend and then her coach. She initially wasn’t so sure about him coaching her, since they were already dating, but it’s worked out. “He’s the one who has basically taught me everything I know,” she says, including sparring, which means getting in a ring to practice fighting with someone else. In fact, Cusato’s the one who encouraged her to compete in the championship she recently won.

Early last year, Doyle wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready for the Golden Gloves. “I saw the people who competed last year and I was like ‘Oh my God, I could never be at that level.’ And then I was like ‘You know what, I’m gonna try, I’m gonna work really, really hard and do my best to feel confident enough,’” she says.

On days when she has a match, she warms up for about an hour and tries to prepare herself so she’s confident and excited for the fight. She doesn’t schedule anything else during the day, but she will clean or read; she’s currently working on the second book in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.

During the championship, Doyle got in the ring and blocked everything else out so she wouldn’t overthink either offense or defense. She’s now the proud possessor of the Golden Gloves prize, a “sick” sweatshirt that announces that she’s a champion.

Doyle’s preparing for the New England Championship in the fall and the Golden Gloves next year, when she’ll fight in a higher division. She can’t see herself going professional with boxing, she says—she’s planning on a career in science. Still, she thinks boxing will remain an important part of her life. She also may coach in the future, which she has already done a little and found fulfilling.

“I don’t plan on competing long term, especially because long term, getting hit in the head is not good for you,” she says. “Short term arguably is probably fine.”

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Related Issue
June–August 2023