Recently I got a chance to visit with Jonathan Esquivel. In December, he won the light heavyweight division at the Olympic boxing trials in Reno.
Jonathan has also been named one of the 16 people to watch in 2016 by the Orange County Register.
Jonathan is very close to becoming an Olympian. He just has to place in a few international tournaments and he will be representing the United States in Brazil.
At 22, he has already dedicated nearly eight years of his life to training and preparing for this opportunity.
But he hasn’t done it on his own.
In the late ’90s, Art James was in advertising and marketing. It was a high-stress job he felt he was good at but it brought him little satisfaction. In 2000, he left to open a gym. This was something he was passionate about.
As a kid from the East Coast, he grew up around fighters and had always enjoyed the camaraderie. There was something special about fighting that had always drawn him.
By 2008, Art found himself running the Anaheim Boxing Club and Team Punch Out for the City of Anaheim. At that time, the boxing club was located in an old supermarket along Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim.
It was dark and dank. It was hot during the summer and cold during the winter. Art was OK with that because he was training fighters of all ages and having the time of his life.
He had found a way to fulfill his passion.
It was after a tussle at school that Jonathan asked his dad, Jesse, if he could show him how to fight.
Jesse started asking around and was referred to the Anaheim Boxing Club. The boxing program had recently been taken over by the Anaheim Police Department’s Cops 4 Kids program.
From his first day there, Jonathan fell in love with the sport of boxing. Within eight months of his first fight he was competing in national tournaments.
Coach James told me: “Jonathan has everything it takes to be an Olympic champion. I train him but honestly he motivates himself more than anything else.”
Jonathan and I talked for a bit and I was immediately struck by his calm, easygoing demeanor — something you might not expect from a light heavyweight champion.
He has more than a passing interest in photography and would like to some day box as a professional.
For now, the only thing that really scares him is talking to the media. That I can easily understand.
Jonathan’s mother, Isabel, has been living this experience with him. Both she and Jesse are somewhat in awe that Jonathan is so close to becoming an Olympian.
“I didn’t really think about how close he was until the Olympic trials in Reno,” Isabel said. “It was then I started thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is really going to happen.’”
Every bout is an emotional experience for Isabel. It’s not easy for her to watch her little boy in the ring.
“I feel like I’m the one giving and taking all the punches. It can be exhausting.”
For now, the family is all in when it come to training. Everyone pretty much eats what Jonathan can eat. That means little or no junk food is allowed in the house.
Even Jonathan admits he has a weakness in that area. Luckily, his family is there to help him out.
Jesse helps his son stick to his training regiment. This includes enforcing a 9 p.m. curfew, making sure he gets his runs in and gets to the gym on those days when he doesn’t feel so motivated.
Every dime is being stretched at home. Christmas was low-key this year. The goal is for the entire family to get to Brazil. That includes taking Jonathan’s two younger siblings.
Getting Jonathan to the Olympics has required a team effort. It’s taken a partnership between Coach James, Jonathan and his family. They are so close.
I, for one, am thrilled and wishing them the best.
It takes an entire community to help support an Olympian. If you would like to help support Jonathan and his family, visit his gofundme page.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain and the founder and president of Cops 4 Kids. You can reach him at email@example.com.