Syracuse University Magazine

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The SU Boxing Club's 2015-16 competitive team featured Moises Torres '16 (left), Samantha Usman '16, Coach Phil Benedict '12, Ioana Turcan G'17, and Tomas Smith '16.



Lessons in the 'Sweet Science'

As an overweight high school student in Lewiston, Maine, Tomas Smith ’16 turned to boxing to shed weight and get in shape. When he started sparring at the local boxing club, he realized he’d found a sport he loved. “It teaches you a lot about yourself,” he says. “I knew if I could prove to myself that I could box, I could do anything. Boxing is arguably the toughest sport out there. Nobody likes getting punched in the face.”

On a Sunday evening in Archbold Gym, Smith is surrounded by members of the SU Boxing Club who have taken a few jabs and dished them out, too. They practice up to five times a week, conditioning, training, honing techniques. They pound the heavy bags, shadow box, and spar. Some members of the club, which was founded in 2012, do it for recreation and to learn the sport. Others, like Smith, fight competitively a few times a year. “There are plenty of different types of people here—engineers, art majors—and that’s what I love about it,” says Smith, the club president. “It’s like a melting pot.”

In 2015, Smith won the heavyweight title at the U.S. Intercollegiate Boxing Association (USIBA) Nationals and was also awarded the association’s Ira Mitzner scholarship for an essay he wrote about boxing’s impact on his life. In April, Smith had his sights set on a second title at the 2016 USIBA Nationals at California State Northridge, but sickness forced him to forfeit. He was joined on the competitive team by 112-pounder Samantha Usman ’16, 132-pounder Ioana Turcan G’17, and 165-pounder Moises Torres ’16. “Watching these guys work and develop into really good boxers is a thrill for me,” says club coach Phil Benedict ’12, a longtime physical plant supervisor and experienced amateur boxer. “These are hardworking, tenacious young men and women who are also some of the smartest people on campus. They’re going to change the world.”

Amid their lessons in the “Sweet Science,” consider their achievements: Smith majored in medicinal chemistry and plans to pursue a career in pharmacology R&D; Usman, the team captain and a physics and math major, is a 2016 University Scholar headed to Cardiff University (Wales) on a fellowship to continue research on gravitational waves; Turcan is a Fulbright Scholar and documentary filmmaker from Romania working on an M.F.A. degree in film; and Torres, an international relations and political science major, plans to attend law school and aspires to hold public office one day. “I want to help people who really need it,” says Torres, who grew up in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood. “I want to be the guy who bridges the gap for them.”

After a day of work or studying, Torres finds retreating to the gym relaxing. Turcan enjoys the balance boxing brings to her studies. “It keeps you sane with your artwork,” she says. She and Usman also cite the cordial connections they’ve made in the boxing community. With a hectic schedule, Usman says the sport keeps her disciplined and focused. “Coach really cares about us,” she says. “He is good about making sure we’re safe, well trained, and motivated.”

Like the club members, Benedict revels in the team spirit and camaraderie. An Air Force veteran, he won United Kingdom and U.S. Armed Forces in Europe titles and fought in the 1980 Olympic trials, exiting with a broken hand. He puts that experience into action when he spars and wants them to learn what works best for their particular styles. “It’s still you and the other fighter in the ring,” he says. “But no matter what happens, everybody is there for you and that’s why I continue doing it. It’s a beautiful thing.”      —Jay Cox

Photo by Ioana Turcan courtesy of SU Boxing Club