April 19, 2011

DeJesus packs a punch

Courtesy of Terence Lee


Maroon Staff / The Chicago Maroon

There is a grin on the face of third-year Adam DeJesus as he lies exhausted against the car door on the way back to his Rogers Park home. DeJesus usually has a smile on his face, but tonight especially he has reason to be happy. His mom has an authentic Puerto Rican dinner waiting for him at home. The dinner is well-earned; the night before, DeJesus finished in the final four of the Golden Gloves, Chicago’s largest and most prestigious boxing tournament.

DeJesus’s Golden Glove run was a journey three years in the making. DeJesus did not start boxing until the summer going into his first year at the U of C. After not competing in any sports in high school other than fitness competitions as a member of the Junior ROTC, DeJesus was looking for a competitive outlet in college.

“Going into college I wanted to try a sport,” DeJesus said. “I always would wrestle for fun with my friend, so I figured I would try wrestling.” DeJesus contacted head wrestling coach Leo Kocher about his desire to join the team. However, because DeJesus had no real wrestling experience, Kocher advised him to try the sport over the summer to prepare for the season and understand what he was getting into.

DeJesus contacted the park district in Rogers Park about wrestling programs but found that they only offered wrestling for pre-high school students. “The only thing they offered was boxing,” DeJesus said. “So I figured that fighting experience through boxing would be better than nothing.” Kocher agreed with that logic, so DeJesus started training with his first coach, who goes only by the name of Bill, in the basement of the Rogers Park district building.

After about a week of training DeJesus was allowed to spar for the first time with an opponent. He recalls the moment that got him hooked on boxing. “[On my third punch] I got him right in the nose,” DeJesus said. “Blood sprayed everywhere. It was after that that I realized this was for real. People can get hurt out here. But by putting my body on the line I also got an incredible rush from fighting, and after that first fight I realized I could be pretty good at it. I was hooked.”

Over that first summer DeJesus learned all the boxing basics from Bill, like how to walk, punch, work out, and eat. As DeJesus started getting more serious about boxing he found support in his uncle, Francisco Garcia. “When my uncle Francisco found out I was boxing he told me how he was a boxer in his youth who won the Golden Gloves in the ’80s. He told me to go after [the Golden Gloves] and that really motivated me to compete as a boxer.”

When DeJesus came to the University he wanted to keep boxing but needed a new gym on the South Side to train. The closest place he could find was the Fuller Park Destroyers, a gym on 47th and Princeton, a few blocks west of the 47th Street Red Line Stop. There he found his current coach Kenneth Sims.

“Coach Sims wanted to see how dedicated I was,” DeJesus said, “so on my first day training with him he had me spar for three rounds with his son.” DeJesus didn’t know at the time, but Sims’s son, Kenneth Sims Jr., was an accomplished Junior Olympic boxer. DeJesus recalls telling Sims he wanted to stop after taking a beating for two rounds, thinking he couldn’t last the final round. Sims would not have it.

“‘Don’t give me that,’ is what he told me,” DeJesus remembers, not including the expletives. “He said if I stopped now, I would think I could stop in every fight I had in the future. If I wanted to be a real boxer, I had to gut it out another round.” DeJesus lasted the round and ever since has had a great relationship with Sims. “Its so valuable to have a coach that will push you further than you could have gone yourself,” Dejesus said about Sims. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without him.”

Over the past three years, DeJesus has had to balance his boxing with his demanding schoolwork. Being a pre-med chemistry major and a competitive boxer has put him on a strict time budget. “I have had to sleep less and be more efficient with my time,” DeJesus admitted. “But it’s been worth it.”

DeJesus’ training regiment includes two to three hour sessions at the Fuller Park gym five days a week, in addition to an hour of travel time each trip, plus the fitness he does daily. “If you want to be a good boxer you have to do fitness daily on top of any time you spent at the gym,” DeJesus said. “30 minute–run in the morning, 30 minute–run at night, 200 push-ups, 200 sit-ups, every day.”

Despite the demands of boxing, DeJesus has his priorities firmly in order. “School comes first always,” DeJesus affirmed. “That is the attitude I have and my coach knows that. I am a student and then a boxer, but I think I can be pretty good at both.”

Boxing and intense academics in the sciences may seem like an unusual combination, but DeJesus swears that the disciplines complement each other.

“Boxing is my escape from school. Class work can get stressful, but boxing and training is always fun for me,” DeJesus said. “I am not a great boxer,” he humbly went on. “Most of the guys at my gym can beat my ass. But I know that every time I train I am getting better, [and that] every run and session with Ken [Sims] has made me a better boxer. That is fun and allows me to be relaxed and motivated when I return to my studies.”

By the same token DeJesus feels his studiousness helps him greatly in the ring. “I have always been dedicated student,” DeJesus said. “I bring that attitude to boxing. I want to learn every detail that Ken teaches me about how to fight and how to train and the reasoning behind it. That has really helped me understand the sport and develop good technique and tactics.”

DeJesus has been competing now for three years, and has lost only one in six fights. His largest accomplishment to date came this past March when he reached the final four for his division in the Golden Gloves Boxing tournament. The tournament was held over three weekends at Gordon Tech High School on the northwest side, where thousands of patrons packed the gymnasium, each of them paying ten bucks to see early round fights and twenty for the championships.

“Every boxer in Chicago has the goal of winning the Golden Gloves,” DeJesus said of the tournament. DeJesus fought in the 139 pounds weight class of the 20-and-under division this past year. Just getting down to 139 pounds was hard for DeJesus. He weighed in at 165 pounds when he started boxing.

“Losing 25 pounds over two years and keeping my weight down has been tough,” DeJesus said, “but at my height if I boxed at any weight above 139 I would not have much of a chance.” DeJesus, who stands only five foot seven, routinely runs into opponents five or more inches taller than him. Though he lacks the long reach of most of his competitors, DeJesus compensates with his quickness, good technique of fending off punches, and excellent stamina.

In amateur boxing, the winner is determined by which fighter accumulates the most points in three two minute-rounds, with points being awarded for every punch one lands on his opponent’s head and body. DeJesus stressed that amateur boxing is not about how much pain one inflicts on one’s opponent. A landed punch is worth one point whether it is just a hit to the opponent’s stomach or knocks him to the ground. “It’s not about overpowering your opponent,” DeJesus said. “It’s out about out-smarting them through finesse.”

When DeJesus pulled a taller opponent in the first round of the Golden Gloves, he wasn’t fazed. “I knew that if I stayed patient and relaxed, my good technique and hard work on fitness would carry me through,” he said. After being defensive in the first round and fending off a flurry of punches, DeJesus came out swinging in the second round. “I could see that he was gassed after the first round, and I felt really fresh so I got aggressive and landed some big punches on his body and head; and a minute into the second round it got so one-sided that the ref had to call the fight,” DeJesus described with a smile.

This win advanced him to the semifinals, where he would fight again the next Friday night. Unfortunately, the fight could not have come at a busier time for DeJesus. It was on the Friday of winter quarter reading period, and he had four finals to prepare for, as well as an interview with a committee from the Chicago Careers in Health Profession Office, who would be writing a letter on behalf of his medical school application.

“Those two weeks (10th week and finals week) were crazy. I was jacked up about the fight, but I just did not have enough time to do my normal preparation because of school.” Going into the fight Dejesus was nervous about not having gotten in the normal sparring time before a fight. He went up against a taller opponent but found himself up on points after the first round. In the second round Dejesus had his opponent up against the ropes, but with one punch his adversary ended his Golden Gloves run.

“I just got a little to aggressive,” Dejesus explained. “I was throwing a lot of punches and left myself too exposed. He landed a good punch on my chin and I went down.” Dejesus quickly got back up but walked around wobbly. Despite his pleas that he was fine, the referee called the fight. “It was really frustrating because I knew I could have won, but I made a mistake and he capitalized on it,” Adam said. “I will definitely learn from it.”

The only thing Dejesus enjoyed about losing the fight was the fact that he didn’t have to worry about making weight and could enjoy his mother’s home cooking for a few days. He enjoyed his favorite dishes from his Mexican and Puerto Rican culture: ceviche, marinated raw fish, and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon, peas, and pork). “It was so good,” Dejesus said. “Normally I’m not supposed eat like that but I had to make an exception.”

The support of his family is part of what motivates Dejesus as a fighter. Dejesus immediately found support from his uncle Francisco and his three brothers, but admitted that his mom needed a bit of convincing. “She doesn’t like the idea that I could get hurt or that I could hurt someone else, but when she saw how much I loved it she supported me,” he said. “It has meant a lot to have my family behind me.”

His Puerto Rican and Mexican Heritage is also one of Dejesus’s strongest motivators. “Mexicans and Puerto Ricans have a history of being great boxers,” Dejesus said. “It’s not like I am getting a lot of glory from my fights, but it is still meaningful to take part in that tradition.”

One of Dejesus’s older brothers, Cain, works as a tattoo artist in a parlor a few miles west of the U of C on 55th Street and Western. His brother did Dejesus’s only tattoo. Dejesus wanted something that would tie him to his Mexican roots and encompass his nature as a fighter. His brother gave him just that—the tattoo that covers most of Dejusus’s back features an image of an Aztec warrior holding an Aztec woman with a temple and sky in the background. Dejesus says that having the tattoo gives him confidence going into his fights. “The tattoo represents my heritage of fierce fighters, so when I go into the ring it’s good to know I have them on my back.”

The story behind the tattoo offers a glimpse into DeJesus’s tough, competitive nature. DeJesus explained that his brother keeps track of how long his customers can “take” a tattoo in one sitting. Before DeJesus the record was seven hours. “Going into the tattoo I wanted to break the record,” DeJesus recalled. “I was able to [break the record], but the funny thing was that I actually fell asleep during it,” DeJesus laughed. “My brother says that never happens.”

The sitting lasted seven and a half hours, and the tattoo was finished the next day with another five hour–sitting. Having a tattoo of that magnitude done in two days was unheard of. DeJesus viewed it as an accomplishment. “It hurt so much the following week,” he laughed. “It went completely numb. I probably should not have had it done that fast.”

DeJesus’s dedication and accomplishments make him an exceptional student and boxer, but it is his humility and sense of humor that make him an exceptional person. DeJesus is focusing on taking the MCAT and getting his medical school application together this spring, so while he is still training diligently, he will not fight until a June 20 bout at his home Fuller Park gym.

DeJesus is excited about creating a boxing club for the next academic school year. His friend, Ajeet Singh, approached him with the idea. Singh said he would take care of the managerial side of the club while DeJesus would act as a coach, instructing and training the members. DeJesus hopes he can get his coach, Ken Sims, to help coach once a week. “I think it will be a lot of fun,” DeJesus said. “Boxing will be a great outlet for U of C students.”

DeJesus admitted that he thinks fighting competitively could be too difficult during medical school, so he says he will likely hang up his gloves after the summer of 2012. However, he still wants to give the Golden Gloves one more go next March. He plans on fighting in the open division next year, the larger and more competitive division that allows for qualification to the Olympic trials. “I am already excited about the Golden Gloves for next year. I will be training with that as my main goal starting in the summer,” DeJesus said.

No matter the results, DeJesus’s next year of boxing will be completed with an ever-present smile drawn across his face and will represent yet another inspiring chapter of an incredible collegiate career. Although he may not box his whole life, in whatever endeavor he takes on—wheter conducting his own research, studying for the board exams, or treating patients-Dejesus will continue to put up one hell of a fight.