Lessons from the school of hard knocks

Boxing for many area youngsters has been more than just a rite of passage or a dream of title belts or Olympic gold. We asked two San Antonio men who boxed as youngsters what boxing meant then and now in their lives.

ARTURO INFANTE ALMEIDA, Artist: "I was part of the Franco Family boxing club in Corpus Christi. The family patriarch, Mr. Franco, ran the club. At age 12 I probably should have been fighting as a welterweight, but Mr. Franco often matched me against his much larger sons. My best recollection is that I boxed roughly one year. I recall that I fought 10 fights and won nine. I did not receive a title. Although I don't recall exactly the category, I imagine it was novice as there was a broad range of experience in the fighters at the tournaments.

"Boxing taught me determination and how to defend myself; I can't, however, say that I ever thought of it in terms of masculinity. I'm not much of a boxing fan these days. It was something that captivated my interest as a boy. I am happy for the experience and treasure the memories. On occasion, I do wonder what ever became of the Francos."

BEN OLGUÍN, Educator and Poet: "I fought at Championship Boxing, a few blocks from the docks of the Houston Ship Channel. I fought for two years from 1979-80 as a teenager, 14 fights, undefeated, two knockouts. I must stress that even though I was undefeated, I was defeated every day I walked into the gym because the training — which involved learning the science of how to inflict pain while learning how to endure it — was inhuman. It merely reinforced my animal instincts to survive. We were the scrappy gym of mostly losers who would remain losers in life largely due to forces outside our control. The name Championship Boxing now resonates as a cruel irony in my head.

"Boxing training does wonders for one's self-confidence and physical health, but only to a point. I recall being starved just to keep me in the optimal weight class where my strength would be maximized. Still, the training for my boxing matches has had a lifelong effect by making me disciplined and regimented enough to accomplish many goals. My Ph.D. from Stanford would have been impossible had I not learned how to endure deprivation, doubt, brutal denigrating derision, and intense loneliness — all of which one finds in abundance in the ring.

"The long lasting lessons have been helpful — I won't let anyone defeat me — but also make me see most strangers as potential antagonists. Again, this has kept me safe, and in two cases, alive, even though most folks I've encountered meant me no harm. I simply can't say that boxing is an unambiguous good thing. I still go see fights because of my appreciation of the athleticism — I want to see the desperate men and boys there survive against all hope — but my spectatorship is not unlike someone slowing down to look at a car wreck."

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