STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. &

In a cavernous and dim room &

exposed beams, a lone fan stirring dust &

young men in underwear stand waiting to climb onto a scale. In the room next door is a brightly lighted ring and a crowd of 60 or so who have paid $15 apiece to watch amateurs from Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut box.

But in the gloom of the other room, it hits Nisa Rodriguez that she just made a three-hour trip for nothing.

As a female amateur boxer, Rodriguez, a 16-year-old from the Bronx borough of New York, often travels to far-flung places for bouts that don't happen, where her opponents &

other young women who don gloves and act decidedly unladylike &

don't show.

This day, she has come all the way to Stafford Springs, to the Main Street gym's Summer Showdown. She was supposed to fight in one of 15 bouts of Olympic-style boxing, but the trainer of the event's only other female boxer has told the people from Rodriguez's gym, Betances Boxing, that his boxer is sick. Rodriguez's shoulders slump, but she decides to hang around. Maybe another female will show, someone in her age and weight class.

Across the room, the woman who knows Rodriguez's hunger better than anyone is working her cell phone, making sure the officials and the doctor are on their way, quieting parents who are nervous that their children will not get to fight, reassuring everyone that the night will go smoothly.

This bout is her baby, this is her gym, and some of these young men waiting to weigh in are her boxers. If anyone understands Rodriguez's slumped shoulders, it's Terry Tumminia-Edwards of Vernon, one of the few boxing trainers in the United States who is female.

Understand that women aren't rare in boxing. At the mid-June Stafford Springs Summer Showdown, females boxed and officiated, and a female doctor examined the fighters. And then there was Tumminia-Edwards. In a heartbeat, she says she would get in the ring and box, but ring greatness has eluded her because:

1. She's a woman in a sport still dominated by men, and

2. She recently turned 50. There's a reason you don't see a lot of 50-year-old boxers; the body can take only so much pounding.

But if Tumminia-Edwards won't ever hoist a thick metal belt over her head, she will at least make sure these young men and women have a shot.

The discipline her boxers learn goes beyond the gym, as does the training. Getting hit, says one of her boxers, Jose Cortes, is "an acquired sensation." The brawler's first instinct is to get mad, but Cortes knows that once you lose your temper, you lose technique &

and, generally, the round.

Still, in training, Tumminia-Edwards allows her youthful contenders some wiggle room.

One weekday, as she pushed a group of five young men through drills, Cortes gave a running commentary: "You've got to be kidding." "Do you ever sleep?" They reclined for sit-ups in the ring, where the canvas was flecked with dried blood. "Whose blood?" a visitor asks. Someone shrugs and says, "All of ours."

What is a nice lady like her doing in a place like this?

Tumminia-Edwards was raised in Brooklyn borough of New York, where she occasionally worked out with her father's speed bag. That was just for fun. She was expected to cook, get married and have babies. She did that, but first she fought.

As an adolescent, the first hit she took in the face came from a 13-year-old neighbor boy who slammed a 2-by-4 into her mouth and knocked out her front teeth. She could hear the boy's mother yelling at him from the street.

If she was combative outside the house, inside she took it, from her father and from her first two husbands &

until she ran out and took the four kids with her. She stayed in hiding, first at a shelter and then on her own.

She went to college &

often trailing the children behind her like baby ducks. She got married to an aspiring filmmaker and moved to Connecticut, but she never forgot her father's speed bag, or the Friday-night fights she watched as a girl with her grandmother.

She was always athletic, and she gravitated to individual sports, where you own your own victories. She began teaching exercise classes. A little more than 10 years ago, cardio boxing began to creep into gyms, and she taught it. She watched body language change as the women in her classes learned to throw a punch. She began to teach the real thing on her own and at Court House Plus in Vernon, where she works as an exercise trainer.

Her son, Andrew Pelkey, now 23, pushed her directly into the ring. Last September, he started boxing, and his mother brought him to a down-at-the-heels gym in Stafford Springs. The trainer there told her that he was burned out, and he announced at a January meeting that he was turning operations over to Tumminia-Edwards.

"Really?" she said. "OK."

And so she formally entered this world where she consistently is referred to as "little lady."

At the showdown, a trainer comes up the stairs and asks to speak to the person in charge. Tumminia-Edwards smiles and says, "I'm running the show." The trainer looks at her blankly for a moment, then reaches to shake hands.

Tumminia-Edwards would like to rest, but building the membership and reputation of the gym &

where she collects no salary &

won't allow it.

Seven days a week, she is in motion, teaching, training and rushing to the gym for three or four hours. She has downtime most afternoons, but some nights she leaves the gym to go back to Court House Plus to teach yet another spin class.

Yet when she puts on sparring pads to get in the ring with her boxers, she jumps and weaves between rounds.

She tells her boxers that once they learn to breathe through their heart in their throats, they'll be fine. That's what she's looking for, heart.

It would be nice to have more money for the facilities, or for her to draw a salary, but the payoff for all the work comes in unexpected places.

Mitchell Hubert, a 10-year-old from Woodbury, is fighting his first bout.

Hubert's opponent is bigger and more experienced, and, ultimately, the opponent takes home the trophy. But Hubert fairly dances out of the ring with his ribbon &

having faced an opponent and fought a clean, technically proficient fight.

The same goes for Ryan Paris, who waltzes off with a trophy because, he excitedly tells Tumminia-Edwards afterward, he listened to her instructions.

But not everyone is happy. After a couple hours as a spectator, Rodriguez packs up &

her silk pants with her airbrushed nickname "Sweet Hands," her wraps, her groin protector.

Before she heads down the stairs, Tumminia-Edwards comes up, touches her arm and smiles at the young woman, who towers over her. She is training a female boxer, she tells Rodriguez. That boxer should be ready in a few months. Don't lose heart, she tells Rodriguez, who smiles and nods. Yeah. OK. A few months.

One day Tumminia-Edwards wants to expand operations, clean up the big room used for preparations at the Summer Showdown, create a basketball court and install exercise equipment. A visitor sees exposed beams and chipped wood floors. Tumminia-Edwards sees an after-school program, a women's group. It's not just about the boxing.