Friday, March 30, 2012

World can't hold me, too much ambition

Most days at work, I'm writing government explainers, development updates or controversies of the day. But every once in a while I have a chance to write a story like this:

Gabe Pineda

HILLSBORO -- After five years of giving and taking punches, 19-year-old Gabe Pineda was done. He left his gloves hanging near the ring at Chief CornerStone, the boxing gym where he'd practiced nearly every day since he was 13.

As he left the sweltering basement gym in the spring of 2010, he recalled a dream he had as a little kid. He was walking somewhere. Spotlights shone on his face from every angle. If he stayed at the gym, boxing might bring him that fame. After all, he was already a champion, having won Oregon's amateur tournament three years in a row.

But being a boxer meant skipping high school parties, avoiding his favorite foods.

Never mind the spotlight, he thought. He wasn't coming back.

'Boxing picked him'

The boxers at CornerStone call Pineda "Ducky," a nod to his feet-out, waddle way of walking. He's 5-foot-6 and fluctuates between 132 and 141 pounds. That's light welterweight range, but his stance implies a density beyond his mass. He's broad-shouldered, a solid trapezoid with cut arms.

"Boxing picked him," said his coach, Rudy Aguero. "He's built like a boxer."

Ever since that childhood dream of spotlights, Pineda had wanted to become a professional athlete. He gravitated first toward soccer, his father's sport. But as he watched Felix Trinidad defeat Oscar De La Hoya in a historic television match in 1999, Pineda abandoned soccer for boxing.

"Seeing a Latino fall like that was so hard for me," he said.

Pineda wanted to fight, but Hillsboro didn't have a youth gym. By the time he met Aguero at J.B. Thomas Middle School, Pineda's parents were divorcing. His father moved out. The teenager was hurt, angry. He wanted to disappear inside a ring.

Aguero, 47, had been a professional boxer in California before retiring in 1994 to become a youth pastor. He and his wife moved to Hillsboro in 2003 and opened a gym, using tape to mark the boundaries, inside a martial arts club. The next year, they moved to the old gymnasium inside J.B. Thomas, where they met Pineda one day in the halls.

The short and slim 13-year-old who wore his hair in an Eraserhead-style shock didn't otherwise stick out from the crowd of youngsters wanting to join the new gym. Eight months in, though, Aguero noticed that Pineda seemed smarter than other boxers. He anticipated other fighters' moves.

Pineda is a tactician, Aguero said. He excelled at science and math. He was the only freshman in his geometry class at Hillsboro High School. In the ring, he saw opponents as combination locks, waiting to be picked.

"Most boxers have a rhythm," Pineda said. "If you can break that rhythm, you can break them."


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