'I Am A Fighter'

"Million Dollar Baby" brought national attention to a slice of female athletics. But the light it has shed on boxing hasn't always been positive: Becky Zerlentes, a 34-year-old boxer from Fort Collins, died Sunday after sustaining a head injury during a Saturday amateur boxing match. She is believed to be the first woman to die in a sanctioned amateur match in the U.S.

And CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski interviewed , a fighter who only fought one professional match. It's been nine years since that match, which was not only her first, but also her last.

"I thought it would be a sport," Dallam said. "I didn't think it would be like life or death."

Only now the gloves are off and Dallam — who went into a coma after she took nearly 150 blows to the head — is fighting brain damage, partial blindness, and memory loss. It took her two years to regain the ability to speak

"What I'm trying to say is like, um, damn it! I'm losing it again," Dallam said, stammering. Frustrated, she slammed her fist and rubbed her head while talking with Brzezinski.

Back then, Dallam's near death experience was notorious in the world of women's boxing. It may even have inspired a short story on which the Oscar winning movie "Million Dollar Baby" is based. Just listen to the parallels between Katie's life and that of Maggie Fitzgerald ... the boxer character played by Hillary Swank.

Both Katie Dallam and Maggie Fitzgerald were born into poverty in Missouri and began boxing in their 30's. Both ended up in the ring against a much younger, stronger opponent. And both took a beating so brutal they ended up disabled and suicidal.

The similarities made it hard for Katie to watch.

"It was really weird," Dallam said. "This is like close to home."

But there are differences too. With her sister Stephanie constantly at her side, Katie fought to live.

And Katie had her passion for artwork. She once painted flowers and landscapes. But violent haunting images now dominate the work that has given her life new purpose.

"I'm just very grateful I didn't lose a limb or my ability to paint," Dallam said. "I'm glad that's the side of my brain that didn't get wiped out."

But painful as it may be, it is the portrait painted in "Million Dollar Baby" that has given her new strength.

"When I saw the movie, I thought, 'You know, I'm not as weak as I think I am,'" Dallam said. "I am a fighter."

  • Christine Lagorio

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