Heather Hardy’s work has been a welcome distraction from the tribulation of her home life over the past yearn despite the fact that her job involves getting punched in the face.
Last Fourth of July, while most New Yorkers were watching fireworks flash in the sky over the water, Hardy was watching a different kind of pyrotechnic display — the kind of fireworks you see when you watch your apartment go up in smoke.
“Fourth of July, these guys were doing work behind my house, and they left two wires touching each other,” Hardy recalled. “Before all was said and done, there was a hole where my apartment used to be.”
Hardy, a divorced single mother, had to move back into the two-bedroom Gerritsen Beach home she was raised in, where she and her daughter, Sophie, stayed with her mother, sister, and her sister’s son.
Then a just few months later, Sandy’s storm surge rose up and filled the small house with seven feet of water, sewage, and debris.
“There are 2,700 homes in my neighborhood and 2,600 homes were completely destroyed,” she said. “It was months before anyone had electricity or running water.”
Throughout it all, Hardy drew strength from her new career as a professional boxer — a talent she discovered only about three years ago following her divorce.
“I don’t want to be a divorcée, or just a mom, I wanted to have something else,” Hardy explained. “Two weeks after I put the gloves on, I won my first fight, and it was like every question I’d ever asked was answered.”
Around the time her apartment was reduced to cinders, the girl from Gerritsen Beach, called “the Heat” by friends and opponents, was training for a match that would become the first in a string of unlikely professional boxing victories.
Fighting Mikayla Nebel last August, Hardy took a hard right hook that sent her tumbling to the mat forty seconds into her first pro fight.
Hardy doesn’t recall hearing the first numbers of the referee’s count as she lay on the mat — her mind was on an entirely different count. She’d lost more than her footing. She had lost two points — and the round. She was losing the fight.
“In my pro debut I was knocked down in 40 seconds, and I didn’t even hear the count,” Hardy recounted. “I just remember saying to myself ‘She just knocked me down, and I’m going to lose if I don’t get up and pick her to pieces.’ ”
So Hardy stood up, and she went to war. Abandoning defense, the girl from Gerritsen Beach went after Nebel and battled through the seasoned pro’s skilled counters to win the next three rounds by sheer doggedness. “The Heat” won the match by unanimous decision.
“I don’t fight like a girl,” she said.
Hardy showed the kind of heart that has seen the 5-foot-5-inch, 125-pound fighter with less than three years of experience through an undefeated 2012 amateur Golden Gloves tournament, through regional and national championships, and now through four professional matches without defeat.
It’s the kind of heart that her trainer, Devon Cormack, says will carry her to the world championship.
“The other girl was a superior boxer, but the heart [Hardy] had, I’ve seldom seen that in anybody, male or female,” said Cormack.
Before meeting Cormack, Hardy had been training with his sister, the current World Boxing Council female world super bantamweight champion, Alicia Ashley. During Hardy’s second amateur bout, however, Cormack filled in for his sister to work Hardy’s corner, where he watched as she suffered her second amateur defeat.
“I worked the corner for her, she lost the fight, and she said, ‘I’m so tired of losing,’ ” said Cormack. “I saw she wanted to do this, and since my sister didn’t have as much time to give to her, I decided to take over. She said, ‘I’ll do anything, just help me to win,’ and since that time, she hasn’t disappointed me,” he said. “She’s on a quick incline to the top.”
These days, Hardy’s lucky if she gets five hours of sleep, and splits her time between training herself and coaching other young pugilists at the world-renowned Gleason’s Gym, as well as promoting her own fights. Even with all the hard work, Hardy still struggles to make ends meet, but she says that will change soon enough.
“When I’m champ, I’ll be paid like a champ,” she said. “I’ll be making three or four times what I’m making now.”
Check out Heather “the Heat” Hardy as she battles Mikayla Nebel in a rematch at the Roseland Ballroom [239 W. 52nd St. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Manhattan, www.rosela