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Junior boxer sets eye on Olympic Gold 2024
Juan Rodriguez traded in his pair of football cleats for a pair of boxing gloves at the age of 12. Since then he has been inseparable from the sport, swearing he would make this country proud when he brings back Olympic gold in 2024.
He has already partially fulfilled that promise, as the Cascade Junior Life Servol student returned from Guyana in May where he was part of the T&T boxing team who competed in the Caribbean Schoolboys/ Girls Junior Boxing Championship, where they gained eight medals, four of which were gold.
Rodriguez, who beat out his opponent in the 53kg class, stunned with gold, along with teammates Nickell Joseph, Nyrell Hosein and Denzil Massy, who all gave elite performances in their individual divisions.
Silver came in from the brother of Nyrell, Tyrique Hosein, Abdul Taylor, Edwin Felix and Blessing Waldropt.
Coaches Merril Simon and Jason Aqui, who led the successful team, were proud and pleased at the overall performance. In a previous interview, Simon said, “You could have seen the confidence in the fighters when they entered the ring. They all performed very well individually, which is what I had expected.”
The fight was the first regional contested tournament in which Rodriguez competed. He said it felt absolutely fantastic.
“I went to get gold…straight gold. I never thought for a second that I would receive anything less,” said a confident Rodriguez.
He continued, “We train everyday of the week. We know what is required of us before and when we enter that ring. So when we get there, it’s just to execute and dominate.”
Rodriguez says as a team, they pray and meditate on scriptures to build confidence, a ritual he has also incorporated into his individual preparation. “I’m being real, there is a belly gripe before you enter the ring, but once you build that confidence, you can rise to the occasion,” he said.
Before his budding boxing career, Rodriguez said his father had wanted him to become involved in martial arts. But he later let him sign up for boxing with the East Port-of-Spain Boxing Gym. This was on the advice of his godmother, who, also interested in an extra-curricular activity for Rodriguez, told his father that boxing might be an apt sport for the young boy, who at the time was seeking to become a member of the football club Trendsetter Hawks.
“I trained a bit with the club but never really got to the point of becoming a member, as once I began boxing, it sort of just took over everything. Looking back now, I would say it must have been fate. Maybe boxing was always the sport for me…always my calling,” said Rodriguez.
The 14-year-old, also an avid pan and drum player, spent all his life being raised at Government housing projects at Mango Rose, Picadilly Street Port-of-Spain. He said it’s always a challenge when you mention where you come from, because many times people are stereotyped.
“People believe that as a young black teen from such an area, we are all good for nothing, lead lives of crime and will amount to nothing,” he commented.
But he says this is far from the truth, as there are many young men and women from these areas who are gifted and talented and who make the conscientious decision and effort to be different and to aspire to greatness. In the same breath, he said many fall by the wayside because they don’t have the right guidance and mentorship needed to help them bring forth their purpose.
“It is sad, because in my own community, I see so many ‘Christiano Renaldos’ and ‘Lionel Messis’, ‘George Bovells’ and ‘Usain Bolts.’ But who is seeing them? Who needs to see them?” he asked.
Rodriguez is particularly grateful to his coach, retired boxer Kurt Sinette, who won the bronze medal in the men’s light middleweight (–71 kg) category at the 1995 Pan American Games in Mar del Plata.
“He is a very serious coach and never allows me or my teammates to skylark. Besides being our coach, he is like a father as he also takes a vested interest in what we do outside of the ring to build ourselves positively as young men.”
Rodriguez is on a strict diet of carbohydrates, proteins and specific fats. For boxers, as with any sport, a good diet is an essential part of staying in shape and keeping up with the requirements of the training regime. Boxers need to eat well in order to maintain muscle strength and energy in the ring and avoid feeling tired and sluggish part way through a fight.
With role models such as Joe Fraser and Mike Tyson, Rodriguez says he is working to bring home Olympic gold in 2024.
“The Bible says write down the vision and make it clear. This is my vision. This is my mission,” Rodriguez vowed.