Last week, 22-year-old Marlen Esparza qualified for the London Olympics. It was a historic moment for the Houston, Tex. native because women’s boxing is coming to the Games for the first time. Though other American women will have a chance to qualify, Esparza was the only American woman to come out of the Women’s World Boxing Championships in China with an automatic berth.
“It feels extremely historic, and it also feels like this is why I was born,” Esparza told Doug Tribou on this week’s Only A Game. “I feel like it completes me and completes my family. I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Esparza said she received a lot of support after she qualified, both from familiar and unfamiliar sources.
“Everybody was so proud of me,” she said. “I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t expect that much love from strangers. I never believed so many people would be affected by what I’m doing.”
Boxing has been a part of Esparza’s life since she was 12 years old, but she has different plans for herself once the Olympics are over, whether or not she wins a gold medal.
“I just plan to go to school,” she said. “That’s my next goal. I’ve wanted to be an anesthesiologist from when I can remember, but I’m actually thinking of changing to child psychiatry.”
Esparza has also signed an endorsement deal with Cover Girl cosmetics, igniting a playful controversy as to who is the toughest Cover Girl model. “There’s another boxer from Canada, and she’s tough too,” Esparza said. “I’d like to say that (I’m the toughest), but I don’t want to be disrespectful…but it’s ok, I’ll say it. ”
Esparza is profiled in the June issue of The Atlantic by writer Irina Aleksander, who also joined the show this week. Aleksander has done more fashion writing than sports writing, but her family background drew her to the story.
“My father was an amateur boxer,” Aleksander said. “I grew up with it on the TV just like Marlen did with her father. I didn’t understand the technicalities of it, but I did understand the human, emotional side of it, which attracted me to Marlen.”
“What sets Marlen apart from other fighters is her confidence,” she continued. “As we learned from Muhammad Ali, talk helps. Once you get to the top tier of female boxers, they’re all fast, they’re all strong, they’re all really good. The thing you have to have is to want it, and Marlen really wants it.”
Through her publicist, Esparza objected to a portion of The Atlantic‘s profile in which Aleksander seemed to imply that Esparza’s relationship with her trainer, Rudy Silva, may be romantic. Silva is 38 and married. Aleksander claims that her intention was to quash those rumors.
“In the story, I say very clearly that there is no relationship,” Alexander said. “I think if I had cited anonymous sources, that would be spreading the rumors, but what I wanted to do was put an end to it.”