Life these days is a series of business trips for 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, the next being a weeklong stay in Memphis for USA Boxing’s 2016 Olympic Trials.
Esparza, 26, of Houston has become accustomed to life on the road, having left her home town in 2013 to train in Colorado Springs, Colo., with regular excursions to Miami, where she works with Cuban boxing coach Jorge Rubio.
The field is familiar as well. The top-seeded fighter in the women’s 112-pound flyweight division, Esparza has fought second-seeded Ginny Fuchs of Kemah five times and third-seeded Christina Cruz three times, plus four fights against others in the eight-member field. She has yet to lose.
So while she isn’t taking anyone for granted when bouts begin Monday night, Esparza casts a veteran’s jaundiced eye toward her challengers as she attempts to take the next step toward the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“This is the exact same tournament we have each year. It’s just that they’re calling it the Olympic Trials,” Esparza said. “It’s going to be the same outcome that it always is.”
In other areas, however, much has changed for Esparza. After years of stability, training in Houston with coach Rudy Silva at Elite Boxing in Houston, she briefly left boxing after coming up short in her 2012 gold medal bid in London.
Esparza won six national championships while training in Houston but said she felt she needed a change when she decided to make a comeback in 2013 and moved to Colorado Springs.
However, resident coach Pedro Roque left USA Boxing in June 2014, and Esparza had to work on her own for several months. She eventually won the 2014 world championship, her first, but the turmoil took its toll.
“It’s been a hard three years,” she said. “I was trained by the same person for almost 10 years, and I was like a robot. I had structure, and that is how I learned to operate.
“Then I had to find a new person within myself and figure out to get things done without stability and without reassurance. I wouldn’t choose it for anybody or wish it on any athlete, but it helped me be a long stronger. I can make my own decisions. I don’t need assurance anymore.”
Esparza enjoys the benefits of being a resident athlete in Colorado Springs, including full-time training and medical support. But there are certain things about democracy – including the need to keep proving herself against the same field of contenders – that can be wearisome.
“In other countries, given what I’ve done, I wouldn’t have to do this (qualify at the Olympic Trials),” she said. “But, at the same time, God love America, it’s always fair.
“I’m not going to sell anyone short. They haven’t beaten me, but some (opponents) still want to say disrespectful things. I don’t understand the point of it. But they’re going to get the best of me every time.”
Esparza was able to capitalize on the introduction of women’s boxing at the 2012 Olympics by landing several sponsorships, including CoverGirl, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. She has deals this year with Nike and Deloitte, the international professional services firm, and said other deals are forthcoming as the Olympics approach.
First, of course, she has to get there, by winning the Olympic Trials and then qualifying a spot for the United States at the world championships next January in Kazakhstan or at the continental qualifier in March in Buenos Aires.
Until she can accomplish those goals – and, she said, until she wins a gold medal in Rio – the rest of Esparza’s life is on hold. So focused is she at the moment, she said she has not visited the beach in Miami other than for training runs.
“I won’t go for another Olympics (after 2016),” she said. “I might go pro. I might not. I don’t have a full-on blueprint. I’m going to get my gold medal, and after that I’m going to see where life takes me.