Respect, responsibility and humility – that’s what the sport of boxing teaches youth, said Lizandra Lopez on Thursday as she proudly pointed to photos of young athletes hanging from the walls of the Livingston boxing gym.
Lopez, 34, is an assistant coach at the 51 Fifty Boxing Club where she spends her evenings training local youth.
Lopez was recently selected to take six Central Valley girls to the U.S. Boxing Junior Olympics National Championships in Charleston, W.Va., this summer, an opportunity she calls a dream come true.
The Merced County native said she has always been a fan of the sport, but her parents never allowed her to practice it as a child. She began learning the sport at age 18.
Now she can’t imagine her life without it.
Lopez is the mother of two boys, who also box and train at 51 Fifty. She is also a medical assistant at MFA Medical Group in Merced.
The medical office and the boxing ring are not too different, Lopez said. She helps people in both places and both require discipline. Being a medical assistant also allows her to measure athletes’ vital signs, a constant need in the ring.
Lopez said there are several reasons why she rushes to the boxing gym every weekday as soon as she gets off work. The love for the sport is one, and her desire to promote physical activity is another.
However, what keeps her motivated, she said, is being part of an activity that helps youth stay off the streets.
The consequence of gang violence is an issue that hits home for Lopez. She said she lost the father of her children, also a boxing enthusiast, in a gang-related homicide.
“There are so many kids that struggle with so many things – bullying, drugs, gangs,” Lopez said. “I see it happen all the time.”
The 51 Fifty Boxing Club was established by the Carlos Vieira Foundation, which also sponsors the Gloves not Drugs boxing program. Lopez said it is programs like these that give struggling youth hope and opportunity.
“We try to get kids off the streets and have them use their anger in here, where they can get something good out of it,” she said.
In the gym, Lopez assists head coach Dennis Moniz, who in the past has also coached in Atwater and Turlock. Lopez credits Moniz for everything she’s learned about boxing, and Moniz said Lopez has been a great addition to the team.
“I can’t do it all by myself, so while I’m in the ring with one group, she’s doing drills with another group,” Moniz said.
The head coach said Lopez is also an important piece of the program when it comes to training young girls. Currently, there are 20 youths enrolled in the 3-year-old boxing program, and five of them are female.
Rosey Mendoza, mother of 8-year-old boxer Jazzy “Boss Lady” Mendoza, said Lopez has taught her daughter that boxing is not just a man’s sport.
Mendoza believes that having a female coach in the gym can encourage young girls to go out and try on a pair of boxing gloves.
“She is phenomenal with the kids,” Mendoza said. “We’re very lucky to have her.”
Jazzy believes so, too.
“Coach tells us that you win some and you lose some, and that’s just how it goes,” she said. “She helps us feel good.”
Mendoza said all three of her children practice the sport. Mendoza and her husband wanted to find something that would keep the children busy after school. All three chose boxing. Keeping her children busy, she said, gives them less time to think about what’s going on in the streets.
For Lopez, communicating her love for the sport with youth is not a hard thing to do, which was apparent as some children ran toward her for a high-five or a fist bump at the end of Thursday’s training session.
“This is what we do,” Lopez said, “we live, we love and we box.”
“Merced Matters” appears every Monday. In it, we will tell the stories of Mercedians – ordinary people doing extraordinary things, extraordinary people doing ordinary things and a lot in between. Contact Dave Hill at email@example.com or (209) 578-2336 with your ideas for “Merced Matters.”