HOUSTON NATIVE MARLEN ESPARZA isn’t just breaking the glass ceiling—she’s shattering it. Already a decorated boxer, Esparza became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics in boxing in 2012, the first year women’s boxing was an Olympic event. She went on to win the bronze in the women’s flyweight division that year in London.
Esparza, a Nike athlete, is also the first woman signed to Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya’s boxing promotions company. Her most recent feat, though, was having her son, Saint. After he was born, Esparza decided to get back in the ring; she’s currently 7-0 and will fight Seniesa Estrada for the flyweight title in Las Vegas on November 2. We sat down with Esparza to discuss her historic journey.
What lessons have you learned from boxing that you can apply to motherhood?
It’s taught me a lot of patience. Through boxing, I understand now that not everything is a competition. When I first had Saint, or even when I was pregnant, I felt like I was trying to compete with other women, like “how they were as moms?” or “what are they doing? Was their pregnancy easy? Did they use medicine?” So it was a huge comparison. And then I started to realize, that’s boxing. That’s what I do for a living, and that’s usually how I operate, but when it comes to being a mom, you can’t do that. It’s not a healthy way to raise a kid, and that’s what I think it taught me the most.
How have you struck that work-life balance?
Sometimes I feel like I’m two people. As an athlete, you’re kind of consumed with that idea that you can’t break away for a moment because it will hurt your performance. So I learned the art of being two people. I am a mom, I am nurturing and I’m trying to raise a human being, but at the same time I have to have my game-face on and be really serious because of boxing. Once I kind of figured out how to separate the two, and it’s not weird—you are two people, and it’s okay. It became a lot easier for me. I like who I am when I’m not in the ring, and I never had that person before.