In boxing, they say when the bell rings, the truth comes out. If you aren’t well prepared and ready to apply your hard work to the obstacle that lies before you, it’ll all be exposed. For most boxers, their obstacle is the athlete who sits in the opposite corner. But for one UR boxer, a bachelor’s degree is the primary feat.
UR junior Jonathan Vazquez is anything but your typical boxer. Vazquez has been able to channel his routine drills and dedication in the boxing ring to attend college. However, UR originally seemed to be a finance that he would never be able to manage on his own. But, the very education that was once out of his price range was made possible through an annual $40,000 scholarship that is funded through the Rochester National Grant for boxers at the Hills’ Geneva Boxing gym. While each UR student has a unique journey leading up to his or her enrollment, Vazquez’s is one student that’s been catching the eye of local news channels and publications alike.
Vazquez’s story started off in the economically disadvantaged community of Wayne County. Despite the economic conditions and distractions from the streets, Vazquez managed to maintain a 3.5 grade point average at Finger Lakes Community College, while working full-time at a nursing home in Newark and boxing at the Hills’ Geneva Boxing Gym. When it came time for him to make a decision about advancing his education, he was accepted and set on going to St. John Fisher College. At the time, UR appeared to be too much of an economic obstacle. But, Vazquez’s financial dilemma was solved in the same ring he punches, bobs and weaves in.
In 2008, the Geneva Boxing Gym was featured in an episode of ABC’s ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ Tim Hill, a successful amateur boxer who retired due to back injuries, opened the Geneva Boxing Gym in an old rented-out space in 1999. Hill trained young boxers free of charge, with the intention for the gym to be a safe haven and life motivator for kids who lived in impoverished communities. But his gym soon transformed from a boxing dungeon and into a full-fledged family of 8- to 21-year-olds who found the gym to be a great place to train, eat, study and enjoy one another’s company. After 10 years of operation, community members took action and were able to elect Hill for a home makeover. By the end of the summer of 2008, Hill’s old space became a new and improved gym attached to his completely rebuilt house.
The project became the talk of the town, and soon caught the attention of UR. At the end of the November 2008 episode of ABC’S Extreme Makeover Home Edition it was announced that Dean of the College Richard Feldman made negotiations to set up a scholarship for members of the boxing gym to attend UR.The scholarship is worth $400,000 and spans over 10 years. It is to be used for the Hill’s boxers at their own discretion.’
Most of the boxers at the gym are young and therefore have a long way to go before than can apply to UR. But, Vazquez, a role model for the younger boxers and a sophomore at Finger Lakes Community College at the time, was in the right place. When it came time for him to make a decision, Hill took Vazquez off guard with an annual $40,000 scholarship to UR.
‘He surprised me with the scholarship,’ Vazquez said. ‘I always wanted to come here because it’s a great school. Then he came up and ask me one day, ‘We have this scholarship, do you want it?’ And of course I said yes. It was like a dream come true.’
Now Vazquez is becoming a local public figure. His story has caught the eye of local news station 13 WHAM. Last Tuesday night, he was featured on the nightly news. His interview is currently posted on their Web site.
Since enrolling, Vazquez has frequently trained at the Goergen Athletic Center. While he acknowledges that a UR boxing club or team would make his training more complete, the minimal boxing equipment and task of finding 12 dedicated individuals who won’t flee when the training gets into sparring has complicated the situation.
As for now, Vazquez still commutes to the gym and trains with the younger boxers. But, hitting the bags is only second to his main role around the gym.
‘Being a role model at the gym, that’s what it’s all about,’ Vazquez said. ‘Right now I’m setting an example to other kids. To get them off the streets and focused on their education. School is the most important.’
Vazquez, who almost turned pro before enrolling in college, came to that realization early on.
‘I wasn’t going to put my hopes into a dream that might’ve not come,’ he said.
His ring dream was motivated by his older cousin, HBO Pay-Per-View headliner and world class welterweight boxer from Puerto Rico, Miguel Cotto.
‘I saw him when I was younger, but I never really knew he was into boxing then,’ he said. ‘I was 3 or 4. [When] I was older, 15 [years old], my father told me ‘that’s your cousin,’ [while we were] watching his HBO fight. That’s what got me motivated into boxing. I was like, wow, that’s awesome.’
Naturally, Cotto is Vazquez’s favorite active boxer. But he admitted that he’s a huge fan of Manny Pacquiao, despite his recent lopsided victory over Cotto this past November on PPV.
Vazquez, an economics major, is currently in his second semester and is preparing for his next opponent – an MBA from the Simon School of Business. Vazquez says that he hopes to pursue a professional career in business management. Until then, Vazquez will continue to train and prepare for all obstacles that lie ahead, clearing the path for the next Geneva boxer who catches their big break at UR.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.