Belles Credit: Rachel Gianatasio

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Haymakers for Hope co-founder Andrew Myerson has a philosophy when it comes to boxing.

“If you’re getting punched in the face for this, you should have some say where the money goes,” he jokes.

Haymakers for Hope, a charity organization that raises money for cancer research, care, and awareness with amateur boxing matches, will be coming to D.C. for the first time under the name “The Beltway Brawl” on Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Anthem. Myerson and Julie Anne Kelly, a cancer survivor and New York Golden Gloves champion, co-founded the organization in 2009.

“The Beltway Brawl” will consist of 15 bouts with 30 participantsall of whom are based in the D.C. area and have no amateur fight experience. Each participant sets an individual fundraising goal and raises money online, similar to philanthropic marathons. After the event, 100 percent of the money goes to whichever cancer nonprofit the participant chooses.

“It … acts as this very transformative experience for the people fighting,” Myerson says. “A lot of money is raised for a cause we all believe passionately in.”

To try and ensure fairness, the participants are matched up against those with similar attributes and are then each paired with an area gym and trainer for a four-month training process.

Urban Boxing and Downtown Boxing Club are training two-thirds of the fighters.

In total, the 30 participants have raised more than $375,000 so far.

Annie Dragolich, one of the participants, moved to D.C. about 10 years ago and is a program manager at Lyft. By June 2016, Dragolich, 33, and her family were in crisis.

Her father had been diagnosed with breast cancer and tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation — a telltale biological risk factor for various forms of cancer. Each child of a parent with the mutation has a 50 percent chance of inheriting it, according to the National Institutes of Health. George Washington University Hospital recommended both Dragolich and her sister got tested for it. Dragolich’s sister, who had thyroid cancer the year before, moved quickly. Dragolich got tested in the spring of 2017.

“As luck would have it, we both tested positive [for the gene mutation],” Dragolich says.

Her sister opted for preventive surgeries. Dragolich, however, planned to take a different approach. “I was a little bit younger [and] have always been in great health, so I intended to take a more conservative approach and was not going to get any surgerieswas just going to monitor everything.”

What Dragolich didn’t know was that she already had cancer.

After she tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation, the hospital performed a mammogram and MRI as part of an initial medical screening. A doctor then informed her that she had breast cancer.

“It was definitely a shock to the system,” Dragolich says. “It’s always emotional to hear that word: You have cancer.”

In September 2017, she underwent a double mastectomy and was on the surgeon’s table for eight hours. “It was definitely the most pain that I had ever felt in my entire life,” she recalls. “One of those things where you can’t really remember the pain because it was so bad.”

The next few weeks were filled with discomfort, but it was manageable, especially since she didn’t require radiation treatment or chemotherapy. By week four, she began biking to her doctors’ appointments just to see if she could. By week six, she returned to work and regular exercise. Both her father and sister are also in good health now, Dragolich says.

Revitalized, she sought out a new physical challenge.

By sheer happenstance, Dragolich, Kelly, and Myerson all attended a charity event in D.C. last fall and were seated at the same table.

After exchanging stories and hearing about the organization, Dragolich knew she had to get involved. She took their business cards and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I mean, a lot of people say that,” Myerson says. “A lot of people say they’re in and not all of them follow up.”

Dragolich meant it.

“She’s been fantastic,” Myerson says . “She has really dove into the training and really made a great community for herself.”

After training for four monthsher first ever foray into boxingand raising nearly $13,000, she is ready to step into the ring Thursday night for a good cause. As her bout draws near, Dragolich ruminates on those who cannot lace up the gloves, but wage battles in radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

“It’s not fun getting punched in the face,” she says, “but it’s really all just a metaphor for the fight that so many people are going through for cancer and so the reason I’m doing it is because I can fight. I can get in the ring and do this. So many others can’t because they’re fighting for their lives every single day.”