FITNESS. MOTIVATOR. SPEAKER.
“My goal is to motivate, inspire, and educate you toward your specific fitness goals. We will focus on core strength, stability, range of motion and flexibility for injury prevention. Proper technique, posture, attitude, self-esteem, confidence and building your inner strength will be gained through my training system.”
Written by: Diana Gish with Franchesca Alcanter
This is the story of Franchesca Alcanter. They call her “The Chosen One.” If this story were told as a fairy tale, Alcanter would play the parts of both the Beauty and the Beast. And although it does have a (spoiler alert!) happy ending, Alcanter would be the first to tell you that her story is no fairy tale. Indeed, it is a story of blood, sweat and tears, a proud family legacy, poverty, booze, jail, violence and redemption. This is the story of a champion; a champion who gets back up each time she’s knocked down.
When 42-year old Franchesca Alcanter flashes her dazzling smile, it’s easy to picture her as a three-time national finalist in the Miss Hawaiian Tropic beauty pageant. What may come as more of a surprise is that the beautiful, buff brunette is also a recently retired championship boxer and MMA fighter as well as a mother and soon-to-be grandmother.
While her personal bio sounds glamorous (beauty queen, ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, WBC WIBA Pay-per-View appearance, boxing mag covers and boxing videos), Alcanter’s upbringing was anything but. Born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1972, Franchesca was the oldest of seven children and was raised in a one-bedroom home with her parents Frank and B.J. Alcanter. Reflecting on that time of her youth she says. “we had very little money, but we did not go without food and other necessities. In my early years, I was definitely a tomboy and extremely competitive. I found that I was blessed with good athletic abilities.”
In 1982, Alcanter’s life changed following the adjustment of local school boundaries. She was assigned to a different school where she was bullied and too afraid to fight back. Eventually she learned that she had to defend herself in order to survive at the new school. Once she took action in defense of herself and others, she gained respect and was no longer bullied. There was a time in her elementary school days when it was Alcanter herself who played the bully role. Although decades have passed since then, her sense of regret has not. “It was during the fourth and fifth grade when I actually picked on a couple of girls. I can remember doing it and feeling horrible. At the same time, I liked that feeling of control I had over them. I can still feel that horrible part. I would apologize in a second if I ever get the chance.”
A short three years after finding her way in the new school, Alcanter faced another major life change when her parents divorced. In 1985, she and her siblings moved with their Dad into a nicer neighborhood with a better school system. The new school was considered superior to her last one, but the welcome she received left much to be desired. Once again, she was faced with bullying. And once again she took action to resolve it. “I became known as the ‘tough, pretty girl’ that you didn’t want to bother.”
Unswayed by would-be bullies, Alcanter played sports and made good grades. She was pursuing the vision she had for her life. “Even at a young age I would see the fitness magazines and wanted to be one of those women. When I was in sixth grade I decided to begin walking the track for 6 to 12 miles every day and to this day I have never stopped exercising.” For Alcanter, it was more of a challenge to develop good eating habits since she didn’t have the option of selecting her own food. This, she says, led to a weight battle in her youth. With those days well behind her, she now goes for a rigid, healthy diet that she loves to share with the people she trains.
As the pre-teen Alcanter was doggedly pursuing her vision of fitness, she was also making choices that would eventually put her at cross-purposes with her goals. It was in the sixth grade that she first gave her father’s alcohol a try. She remembers sneaking drinks from a bottle of tequila brought home from a vacation in Mexico. Her father was an alcoholic, and this was the first sign that young Franchesca’s life might be headed in the same fateful direction. It wasn’t long before the once motivated and driven adolescent found herself on a path of self-destruction.
“My athletic abilities gave me confidence, but I still lacked self-esteem. It was easy for people to lead me in a wrong direction and I became a rebellious teenager, ran away from home and got involved with a boy who was abusive and an extremely negative influence in my life. It was a relationship that lasted three years before I was able to get free and become my own person.”
Starting over again at the still-young age of 19, Alcanter got married and set out to rebuild her life. She remembered those magazines and the pictures of the beautiful women with great athletic bodies and renewed her commitment to her goals. By getting back to exercise and following a healthy diet, her self-confidence started to grow. When she became pregnant at age 20 she was completely undeterred and continued to exercise and eat well, gaining just 20 pounds. A week after giving birth to her daughter she was right back at training with only five postpartum pounds to lose. “I am always the happiest when I am working out, and this was no exception.”
Training as hard as Alcanter did during and after pregnancy might be considered too drastic today. But for this healthy and motivated 19-year old, it was the natural thing to do and no harm was done to her or her baby daughter (who incidentally is now expecting a child of her own at the time of this writing). The drive to push beyond the extreme is something that Alcanter has had to learn how to manage.
“I do have to use caution, because I have a tendency to become obsessed with exercise. I now keep it under control, and I am able to share that experience with all of my trainees.”
Alcanter’s devotion to fitness led to an opportunity to compete in a local Miss Hawaiian Tropic pageant. Appearing in a swimsuit in front of a large audience was an experience she felt she needed. The risk paid off, and she won a trip to Hawaii to compete in the U.S. finals where she found herself somewhat intimidated by the competition but also confident that she could hold her own.
“From that first experience I decided to give my body a different look, going from muscular to soft and curvy. That took developing some different habits in exercise and eating. The next here years (’96-’98) I competed in the pageant again, each time wining at the local level and then earning the title of finalist at the national level.”
Unfortunately, the Miss Hawaiian Tropic finalist from Kansas City picked up something else during her first national pageant in Oahu.
“It was there where I felt the start of a drinking habit. Every night there were social functions and parties with celebrities and booze.
I was a girl from Kansas who had never even been on a plane before, and here I was competing with 100 of the most beautiful women in the United States. I was totally out of my comfort zone and booze loosened me up.”
Success in the pageants led to earning a living as a local swimsuit model. The good news was that the physical fitness and hard work was now paying the bills. The bad news was the partying and drinking that came with the lifestyle. But at this point, Alcanter didn’t see the drinking as a problem. All she could see were the opportunities in front of her.
“One of the jobs I enjoyed most was being a ‘Round Card Girl’ for the local boxing matches. My family has deep ties to the sport. My grandfather was Joey Alcanter, ‘The Bombarding Mexican.’ He and his brothers were pro boxers in the 1930’s. Because of this, the idea of me boxing was never far from mind. I was divorced by this time and ready to make changes in my career, so I started training for my first fight.”
The training took Alcanter to Iowa to compete in a “Tough Man” competition as a step closer to the boxing ring. It was in Iowa that she happened to pick up the March 1999 issue of “RING” magazine. It turned out to be a defining moment that would set the course for her future in boxing. She turned to the back of the magazine and found a list of the top fighters of 1936 along with a picture of her grandpa who had been ranked 10th in the world Light Weight Division.
“It was a great, inspirational moment for me. Up to that point I was struggling with how to move my fight career forward. When I saw my Grandpa Alcanter’s picture I knew that this was my destiny and that nothing would stop me. I knew then that this was my moment. The moment was NOW!”
As a boxer in the first women’s boxing match staged in Terre Haute, Indiana, Alcanter made history and headlines with her first professional fight.
“My competition was 6’, and 100 pounds heavier than me. But I had fun and I fought a good fight. I was smiling. I didn’t win the fight, but I still felt like a winner because I knew then that I could be a good professional boxer.”
Just as she was gaining confidence and feeling the certainty of being on the right path, the history-making boxer was cited for driving under the influence. While researching her family’s boxing history, Franchesca discovered that her grandfather, Joey Alcanter, always took a shot of whisky before his fight to calm his nerves. This inspired the granddaughter of the “Bombarding Mexican” to take a “tribute shot” in his honor before stepping into the ring. But it wasn’t always just a shot that she was drinking before her bouts. The D.U.I. served as a wake-up call to behave better in public as role model for women in boxing. It did not stop the drinking from taking place in private.
More trouble was to follow, but so were the opportunities. Dream matches came her way, and she embraced every one with her trademark fervor. Alcanter made a great showing in her fifth fight which took place in 2000 at the Playboy mansion and was televised nationally on ESPN. In 2005, she fought in the WBC WIBA Super Feather Weight Championship of the World in a Pay-Per-View Main Event Fight in Edmonton, Canada. She appeared in each of the Freddie Roach Boxing Technique videos of 2006 and was chosen to appear on the video covers as well.
The bouts and other opportunities that came her way would be the envy of any up-and-coming boxer, and she embraced them all.
Alcanter doesn’t pull any punches when she shares her story, and she is characteristically honest about the good fortune she enjoyed early in her career. In addition to the hard work, training and discipline, she acknowledges that there are other factors that came into play, including her looks.
“It’s unfortunate but true, the better a person looks, the more opportunities they are going to get. That’s why I’ve always worked even harder. I wanted to prove that I’m more than just a pretty face.”
She also believes in destiny and fate. She came of age and stepped into the ring when women were just starting out in the sport and she arrived adorned with the legacy of her grandfather and great uncles. Franchesca Alcanter has always felt that she was born into this role, destined by her family heritage to be “The Chosen One.”
For each door of opportunity that opened for “The Chosen One,” Joey Alcanter’s granddaughter was more than willing to walk through. But behind closed doors she felt more like a punching bag than a champion. Her at-the-time manager was also her boyfriend. He managed the business end so she could focus on training. In the community he was a well-respected fireman, but at home he was someone else; an abuser who managed to cover up his abuse by pinning it on his girlfriend, the boxer. Following their frequent, booze-fueled fights, Alcanter would wind up in jail with domestic violence charges, unable to get police to listen to her side of the story. The same scenario continued to play out; round after round until that time she came home from a multiple-day, post-fight bender and found her boxing coach waiting for her. He offered her a choice; “Get help or get out.” The time she’d already spent in jail was another sobering reality check that kept gnawing at her. The thought of losing her daughter to a prison sentence was an option that she could not live with. Alcanter made up her mind. There would be no more loss of control, no more getting battered, no more time in jail for someone else’s actions.
Time in rehab led Alcanter to realize that the biggest fight she would ever face was the one within. Over the next three years she sobered up and found her strength on the inside. During this time she fought three World Title fights and finally got the courage to leave her boyfriend and start a new life.
“I encourage people struggling with alcohol to go to an A.A. meeting so they can know that they are not alone and that the promises really do come true when you stay sober and stick to the basics of the program! Today I don’t find anything hard about being a recovering alcoholic! I say my ‘thank-yous’ before I go to bed and thank God for another day of sobriety! I always remember a wise man who said, ‘It’s the first drink that will get you drunk. If you don’t take that first drink you won’t get drunk!’ I think about losing everything I cherish in life! That’s what keeps me sober. I wouldn’t risk losing the trust of my daughter or boyfriend for a drink that I’m allergic to.”
The boyfriend Alcanter mentions is Paul Berrian, the boxer, fighter and trainer she calls “The love of her life”. They met in 2008 when she was the “Juice Bar Girl” at her local Gold’s Gym. At the time she was training for the biggest fight of her career, a fight in Germany that would be viewed by five million homes across Europe. She was also continuing to work on her recovery.
Alcanter’s lifestyle change did not happen in a convenient straight line.
After leaving her ex-boyfriend she thought that her big problems were over and that she could drink moderately and socially without the worry of fighting and landing in jail. She found out otherwise.
“The simple fact is that alcohol turns me into a mean person, and that’s not me.”
Alcanter took her last drink in 2010.
“The favorite part of my story is I truly know I am allergic to alcohol, and no one is to blame! I know now I can’t point fingers at others and hold resentment towards anyone and make excuses to drink. I have NO desire to drink knowing the consequences. I am not willing to take that risk anymore. Now I am in control with God’s help.”
In pt. 2 of “The Chosen One” Franchesca Alcanter takes the reins of her career and trains for her final boxing match while also managing the business side. She offers up her definition of strength and shares the new direction she’s found for her life; empowering women and children.