Club sports provide the unique opportunity for students to participate in athletics without prior experience, expanding the breadth of sports on campus and allowing not just the physical aspects of athletics to reach a greater audience, but also the mental benefits. Students can improve their personal health by participating, of course, but often they find sports to be a mental outlet to reduce stress and pursue a passion outside of academics. The St. Olaf boxing club, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday on campus, is a perfect example.
Professor Carlos Gallego, the head coach of the club, stresses that joining boxing not only helps people get in tremendous shape, as boxing training is considered among the toughest and most rewarding in sports, but also nurtures a strong sense of confidence as boxers learn to master their fears and instincts. Gallego also notes that boxing teaches the importance of fundamental skills and discipline, both of which can be applied to other important life activities, most notably academics.
Gallego began his training in his hometown of Tucson, Ariz. for five years as an amateur boxer before moving to Northfield. Over the past five years he has been working as a boxing trainer, helping athletes of all skill levels, including current state bantamweight champion Vicente Alfaro, to recognize and fulfill their latent fighting potential.
“Currently I am studying other related combat disciplines, like Muay Thai, which I am looking forward to integrating into the club curriculum,” Gallego said.
If students have no previous experience with boxing, Gallego starts them off with simple circular training while teaching them rudimentary techniques like jabbing before working up to the intricacies of the sport, such as footwork, parrying and combinations involving hooks and crosses.
Zachariah Tritz ’17, one of the student coaches, said that students involved in the club will also get training sessions from two student coaches based on their level of experience. Tritz joined the club during his freshman year after having no previous experience with the sport, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Joining boxing is a good way to stay fit and get active,” Tritz said. “You get to challenge yourself, since this is more like a singular sport where you don’t have to worry about your team, but having your own dedication to work and see the result.”
Mikhail Lysiuk ’20 and Samantha Van Der Steen ’20 are two of the students who regularly participate in the club. For Lysiuk, many different martial arts have remained critical in his life over the course of eleven years. Boxing provides a great way to keep up his combat skills, and the low time commitment keeps his schedule flexible, ensuring that he can pursue his passion without falling behind in his studies.
Similarly, Van Der Steen has maintained an attraction to organized fighting since she was young. Her parents initially disapproved of this penchant, but boxing has provided her with a healthy outlet to express her interest while learning intricate techniques and honing her craft.
Both Lysiuk and Van Der Steen praise their coaches for their tremendous skill and knowledge, while also creating a comfortable atmosphere that promotes camaraderie among their fellow boxers. For Gallego it’s about learning an art and finding a productive outlet the way Lysiuk and Van Der Steen have.
“It’s not only about teaching people how to fight, but also preparing their body and mind,” Gallego said.