Magazine Feature / People

Sophomore credits boxing with path to DU

Lorenzo Sanchez had been in fights before, but this one was different.

A California transplant, Sanchez was new to Denver’s Skyview High School when one of his friends was shoved into a locker. Sanchez and his buddies retaliated against the bully and his buddies, and the ensuing melee ended with cop cars and ambulances.

For his role in the fracas, Sanchez was sentenced to community service. A diversion program gave him the option of where to perform his community service and he chose a boxing club at the Pecos Community Center in north Denver — Aztlanecos. Sanchez had been a boxer since age 13.

“In Chicano, it means something like ‘homeland,’” Sanchez explains. “It’s a real community there. Everyone knows everyone. I could tell it was a family environment.”

Joining Aztlanecos ultimately led Sanchez to the University of Denver and a full scholarship from the Daniels Scholarship Fund. He’s now a second-year student at DU.

At first, per the terms of his community service, Sanchez spent his time at Atzlanecos cleaning up around the club. Eventually, he caught the attention of boxing coach Tim Lucero, who began mentoring Sanchez.

“He was something special from the get-go,” Lucero recalls. “He learned discipline from boxing, and it’s the kind of lessons we can apply to all areas of our lives. I think that discipline helped him with his schooling.”

Sanchez began to work out at the club multiple times a week. It was a productive outlet for him, especially at a time when he was trying to shake the trouble that got him there in the first place.

“It kept me busy,” Sanchez says. “It was something to do after school instead of just hanging out, which leads to some of those other things.”

His time at Atzlanecos coincided with a period of introspection. Sanchez was washing dishes at a restaurant — an experience that made it clear he didn’t want that to be his main job after high school. He could be a cook, but that didn’t appeal, either. There was construction, which paid well, but it was seasonal.

Then, he witnessed an incident that illustrated a path he wanted to avoid.

“There was cocaine being sold,” he says. “There was a bust and some people went to jail. That was a real eye-opener.”

The experience, along with the boxing club, helped Sanchez focus on schoolwork. Initially, it seemed daunting. He wasn’t in clubs or sports or, he acknowledges, much involved with school at all. But, his test scores were good, and eventually he decided to do what many people, including Lucero, were urging him to do — apply himself.

“He’s a good kid … or young man I should say,” Lucero says. “He makes it clear that he loves boxing and doing things other kids do, but his schooling is also important to him. We’re all proud of him for that.”

After buckling down and improving his grades during his junior year, Sanchez received a Daniels scholarship and was soon bound for DU.

Sanchez has selected math as a major and Spanish and sociology as minors. He’s an intern at DU’s Center for Multi-Cultural Excellence.

Johanna Leyba, assistant provost at the center, says students like Sanchez face many challenges in college.

“Certainly their families are proud and recognize the accomplishment, but it’s also a hardship,” she says. “Being the first one, you’re paving the way. You face isolation. You’re learning about things people in their community don’t know about.

“A lot of times, students feel like they’re strangers in both worlds — they recognize their opportunity, but they don’t always feel welcomed, or that they’re understood.”

Sanchez acknowledges the challenges in his new life, but continues to overcome them.

“The school I graduated from didn’t prepare me for it,” he says. “I had to learn a lot of basic things that other people already knew. I didn’t know how to write a paper.

“The population here is also a lot different from my community.”

Two or three times a week, though, Sanchez returns to Aztlanecos, and often takes his 12-year-old brother, Steve and six-year-old brother, Gustavo.

Sanchez believes the club — and all that can be learned from taking part in the club — can benefit any young man.

“The environment there is what some of them need,” Sanchez says. “I always feel like there are kids coming and going, but those who stick with it, it’s a good activity for them.”


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