Fighting through the ranks


Valerie Benzinger

Junior Nicholas Zuniga sets up his stance.

By Valerie Benzinger, Lewisville High School

The sound of the bell breaks the silence, signaling the beginning of the sparring match. Two teenage boys stride toward each other, gloved hands protecting their faces. Powerful strikes are thrown and returned between the two boxers, with swift dives and blocks used to defend themselves. After the three crucial minutes of the match are finished, the two boys receive critiques over their individual performances.

For junior Nicholas Zuniga, these practice matches are important to his future. He has put his heart and soul into perfecting his boxing technique for almost nine years – there’s no giving up now. Working on bettering his athletic skills has been a priority in his life ever since he was in elementary school. Boxing means the world to him; it’s his passion and dream career.

“What [boxing means] to me is that, when I was little, I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Zuniga said. “But now, it’s different. I take a hit, and I think ‘OK, I’m still good. I can keep going.’ I think that feeling that I’m strong enough to keep going is what makes it worth it.”

Zuniga has been surrounded by boxing ever since he was young, watching televised matches with his family for as long as he can remember. He admired the work ethic and dedication shown by the athletes and became inspired to push himself and become a successful boxer.

“The one boxer that I really follow and started watching boxing for is Canelo Alvarez,” Zuniga said. “When he was younger, he was just a small Hispanic kid being bullied, and now recently, he fought GGG. Nobody thought [Alvarez] would win, but he did. I look up to boxers like Jack Dempsey, who fought with ferociousness and kept going. He searched for [the world champion] title, even when things got hard.”

As with any commitment, being an aspiring professional boxer comes with its sacrifices and challenges. Zuniga maintains a healthy diet by avoiding fast food and works out at the Lewisville Boxing Team Fitness Center three times a week. In the ring, various obstacles prevent an easy win, including distractions and the other boxers’ strategies.

“Staying focused is so hard,” Zuniga said. “I feel so tired, and I feel my hands going down, but I have to keep going because if I don’t, I’m going to get hit.”

Training with Lewisville Boxing Team coach Jamaal Lawson, Zuniga has grown as a person and athlete by becoming more responsible and mature. The technical aspect comes along with the training, but his personal growth is entirely due to internal motivation and drive.

“One thing he has that I can’t teach him is heart,” Lawson said. “[To succeed in boxing,] you have to have heart, and he has a lot of that. A lot of people are technically and athletically sound, and they pick things up faster than he does, but when it comes down to actually sparring and that [physical] contact factor, they kind of shy away, but he rises to the occasion.”

Zuniga’s drive and passion extend beyond the ring into school and his friendships. He consistently pushes himself to do well at anything he does, which is evident to those who interact with him.

“He believes in himself, and he really pushes himself hard,” junior Chloe Luxenberg said. “I think that’s really important. He’s one of the most dedicated people I know.”

Zuniga doesn’t plan to stop his boxing career after high school – his ultimate goal is to continue training and earn the world champion title. Zuniga’s passion and love for the sport motivate him to push the limits and achieve his goal of becoming world champion.

“I have goals,” Zuniga said. “It’s a passion. I don’t think people understand when they work hard for something they don’t truly want, [it becomes difficult and they] think it’s because they don’t have any motivation, but it’s because they need to have passion for it. This is something I really care about.”

This story was originally published on Farmers’ Harvest on October 26, 2018.