Networking can be a tricky thing.

You’re not always sure if you’re about to say the wrong thing. It can be awkward, painful even. If your efforts at networking result in your getting punched in the face, more often than not, things did not go well.

However, in the case of Jessica Marino and Ray Folmer, that exact outcome proved to be the measure of true networking success.

“You know that cheesy term ‘sweatworking’?” Jess asks me. “Ray’s my client. We’re both in finance. Part of the relationship is entertaining and since I’m athletically inclined, I started getting creative and asked, ‘Instead of going out and having a steak, do you want to come to a spin class with me or something like that?’ and he said ‘Yes, I would totally like to do that’.”

One of their professional excursions led them to a Haymakers for Hope fight. After a night of watching others literally fight to beat cancer, they decided to apply together.

A few months later, the two were sizing each other up in the ring, preparing to spar.

“Sparring with Ray was almost comedy,” Jess chuckles. “I’m five-foot-seven and 127 pounds. He must have a hundred pounds on me and is 6 foot something. I was like ‘Ray, don’t break my nose. I’m not afraid to get in the ring with you, but if you break my nose, I will kill you.”

“I’d never punched a girl before in my life, so that was really awkward,” Ray tells me. “I think I gave her a bloody nose that day.”

“There was definitely blood in my nose that day!” Jess laughs, feigning indignation. “Ray was like, ‘You walked right into it!’ and I was like ‘Bullshit I walked right into it! You simply hit me in the face, you little jerk!”

To paint the matchup as a David versus Goliath billing wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate, but not in the way you might think.

“These training sessions wear you out,” Ray explains, a sentiment nearly every H4H boxer has expressed. “I wrestled in high school, but never picked up boxing. Picking up anything at 48 years old is a struggle. When you start getting punched in the face, it’s an eye opener.”

As for Jess, this is probably a good time to mention that she’s an elite endurance athlete, a former gymnast who played soccer for University of Richmond, and recently raised over $650,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund as the single female on the 4-person team division in Race Across America, a 3,000 mile non-stop relay bike race across the country from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis MD (her team finished as the champions). When we spoke, she was in Hawaii, recovering from the Ironman World Championship Competition she’d raced the day before.

“I’m not sure my perspective is the one to...” she trails off, laughing. “I’ve been doing my boxing training on my, quote, light days. I’m supposed to be more or less relaxing, maybe doing a light run or a little longer swim on certain recovery days. Those have been the days that I’ve been boxing. What I’m trying to do in my athletic career is pretty different than most.”

Regardless of whether the training is an unprecedented challenge or just another exhausting day amongst a lifetime of them, for both Ray Folmer and Jessica Marino, their involvement comes down to the people it helps.

“It’s such a great cause,” Ray tells me. “Every single person that I know has been touched by cancer. My wife and I both had family members who have suffered from cancer. I don’t think anyone alive today doesn’t have someone close to them who’s been affected by cancer.”

“The money I raise is going towards the UVA treatment center on behalf of #KickAsh,” Jess adds. “I’m fighting for a former college teammate, Ashleigh, who’s fighting a rare form of brain cancer. My best friend is also a cancer survivor and will be front and center cheering in the stands on fight night.”

“It is a fight,” Ray continues. “People who have to suffer through it, they fight. This is the least I can do. If I can suffer for three lousy rounds to raise money and awareness, I think that’s a great thing.”

“There’s no punch you could take that could compare to what the people I’m fighting for have gone through and are going through,” Jess adds. “We are literally fighting for a cause that I couldn’t pass it up. Anything I can do for the cause, I’m all in.”

So how has this joint venture affected their business relationship?

“As sales coverage and client, we have to talk to each other every day at work,” Jess says. “The majority of the conversation ends up being about practicing footwork or whatever. It’s pretty funny. Both business and pleasure, I guess. More often than not it ends up being about how last night’s boxing session was!”

“Don’t tell work,” she adds with a laugh.

***Chris Randa is a freelance writer, film producer, and special education teacher. He lives with his wife and son in Millis, MA. Check out his work at and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisRanda