Sunday, September 30, 2012

Olympic bronze medalist learned life lessons in ring

From Friday's Briefing:

Marlen Esparza has devoted half of her life to boxing.
Her deter- mination has paid off. She’s rarely lost a bout to an American opponent. She won a bronze medal in the 2006 world championships and gold in the 2008 Pan American Games. This summer in London she won the bronze medal in women’s flyweight boxing.
Now the 23-year-old Pasadena, Texas, native is adjusting to post-Olympics life — as a spokeswoman, volunteer, sought-after speaker, CoverGirl model and more.
Esparza will be in Dallas on Monday to speak to a student group at Southern Methodist University. We visited by phone this week. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
You were struggling with some discipline issues at school when you took up boxing. How did boxing help you change your attitude?
I was really young. I was 11. I had a bad attitude. I thought I was always right, always in charge.
Boxing really made me grow up quickly. It gave me a lot of discipline. I realized I can’t be a kid forever. I grew up really fast, putting up with other boxers and trainers.
You chose to delay college, instead focusing on your boxing career. How did you make that decision?
It was difficult. I thought I’d go to school and box at the same time. But it wasn’t the way I’d planned it. Instead, I had to take online classes. I was training, boxing, leaving the country. I had to completely stop. I didn’t have time or energy to do school anymore.
But you have plans to return to college?
I’m going to start in January, probably at the University of Houston, and work my way from there.
You chose an unusual path. How supportive were your parents at first?
My dad had to be convinced to let me in the gym. Then he was supportive. My mom just kind of stayed out of it. She didn’t give me a hard time or my dad a hard time.
The toughest thing was my dad letting me in the gym. I was asking him from when I was 8 or 9. He was taking my brothers all the time. Eventually, my older brother didn’t want to box. I got to go.
What advice do you have for young women who want to pursue something out of the ordinary?
My advice to any young girl is there’s no such thing as ordinary or unordinary. You can’t let anybody tell you that it’s right or working. They’ll eventually see your vision. You don’t have to get anyone’s permission to live your life the way you want to live it.
What sort of skills and lessons from the boxing world do you plan to take with you college?
Not every day is going to be an easy day. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of hard work. I know there are going to be days when I’m doubting myself. It all plays a role and it’s natural and normal. I’m going to accept that that’s the journey.
Will you continue to box?
I’m going to go to [the Olympics in] 2016 and get a gold medal. I didn’t think I was going to … but I’ve been blessed with a lot of things, and getting the bronze fueled me up when I was running on empty. I definitely want to try 2016. It was a complete trial run to get to the Olympics. Now I know what it’s going to take. It’s going to be a lot easier.
Do you feel like you’ve lived a full life for a 23-year-old?
I’ve traveled, been to other countries. I know how to get through life. There’s a lot of things I’ve missed out on, too, like going to the zoo or carnivals. But I’ve done a lot more than most my age. I’m grateful for it.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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