Correction to This Article
The article about the friendship that has developed between two Montgomery County women of similar lifestyles who box against each other said that one of the women, Barbara Bartolomeo, does consulting work for the American Medical Athletes Association. The correct name of the organization for which she consults is the American Medical Athletic Association.

Boxer moms: Two suburban women discover friendship through boxing

The Washington Post's Les Carpenter examines the relationship that two local mothers have forged by sparring together.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The crimson streak, fresh and smeared across her boxing glove, seemed to startle Barbara Bartolomeo. Just a moment before, she had been dabbing at a bead of what she thought to be warm sweat pooling at the top of her lip. Now she could see it was not sweat at all but blood spilling from her nose.

She looked up and there was Marlow. Her best friend Marlow. Her stylist Marlow. The Marlow who only 15 minutes before was sitting on the floor before a giant mirror, running her fingers through Barbara's hair to see if the ash-blonde "peek-a-boo highlights" she put in a few days ago looked perfect in the gym's fluorescent light.

Yes, that Marlow had given her a bloody nose.

Barbara smiled.

What's a best friend if she can't break your nose or bloody your face?

And in the 2 1/2 years that Bartolomeo and Marlow Prado-Blankenship have been boxing together, they have blackened each other's eyes, split lips and cracked noses. Later they giggle, displaying their wounds to friends who stare in disbelief, unsure how to respond. After all, what women in their mid-40s with husbands and children and sprawling, suburban homes in the Montgomery County community of Boyds beat each other for fun? Or worse, introduce their best friend as "my sparring partner."

"They don't get it," Barbara says.

Who does? Even the local boxing community isn't sure what to make of them. Earlier this year, when Marlow was ready to expand beyond these weekly training sessions with Barbara and actually fight a real opponent at a real fight in a real ring, she was told there were no other women over 35 for her to box. She was the only one. And realizing that Marlow might not ever get to live her dream of an actual fight, Barbara offered the only help she could. She would be Marlow's opponent. They would go to boxing shows together; a team and a fight card all at once. Two middle-aged women slugging each other. Barb and Marlow. Almost like an act, except the act would be real. The punches serious. They would become, as they like to say, "a freak show."

"I think we complement each other," Marlow says. "If we could meld into one person we would be the perfect person. She is the yin to my yang."

In many ways they are almost exactly alike. Barb is 44, Marlow 43. Both stand 5 feet 4 and have toned bodies that are the result of teaching exercise classes together at the Washington Sports Club in Germantown. Marlow has four children, ages 11 through 18. Barb has two boys who are 4 and 8. Barb consults for the American Medical Athletes Association. Marlow has a hair salon that she runs from her basement.

And yet to watch them for a few minutes is to realize they are anything but the same. Barb is refined, straight-forward Washington, friendly and quick to laugh but reserved just enough as to never seem uncontrolled. Marlow is gregarious, bounding into rooms, gushing hello to strangers, laying open her emotions in a way that Barb never does.

It's hard to imagine they would have much in common. They are not of similar backgrounds: Barb was raised in Cranford, N.J., an upper-middle-class suburb of New York, while Marlow escaped a physically abusive father and grew up with her grandmother in Puerto Rico, a heritage that is most noticeable when she strips off her warmup sweatshirt and reveals a Puerto Rican flag tattooed on her shoulder.

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