COOLIDGE — Four young Robles Gym fighters are gearing up for the national Silver Gloves youth boxing competition on Feb. 8 in Independence, Missouri.
The fierce fighters and national qualifiers are: Jasia Suarez, 13, Keely Islas, 11, Neveah Rodriguez, 11, and Nova Keiser, 10.
Suarez has been training at the gym for the last two years but is no stranger when it comes to contact sports. Although she has participated in karate classes for several years and currently wrestles for the Coolidge Junior High School team, she has found boxing the most enjoyable and rewarding sport in her eyes “because it has taught me how to defend myself the most,” she said.
Suarez said that has built confidence in her ability to navigate the world as she gets older.
This will be her first time traveling on an airplane and first national competition. There is the potential Suarez could have as many as three fights across the event, which would break a personal record for consecutive fights in one competition. So, she is going to be accompanied by her father, her greatest supporter.
At practice Monday through Thursday for two hours in the evening, she will often spar with the two-time Silver Gloves champ Rodriguez, of Florence, due to their similar height and weight class.
Rodriguez got her start as a boxer three and half years ago after her mother decided to take evening classes at Robles Gym. Instantly, she found a talent for it.
At just 10 years old, she won her first competition and even got a chance to fight in an unofficial match-up at a Golden Gloves tournament, which is for boxers ages 16 and older.
Before she takes the ring, Rodriguez said she enters a quiet and reflective state. A bit of nerves are to be expected, but she can go into it with confidence that “I know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I just think about what’s going to happen and what I’m going to do when I get into the ring.”
With two championships already under her belt, Rodriguez said she is hoping for yet another win and continuing to improve her hand and foot movement in the ring.
Islas has tried her hand at dance and acrobatics, earning medals in hip hop and jazz performances, before rediscovering in the last two years a sport she was introduced to at just 5 years old.
“When I was five, I used to take my aunt’s kickboxing class and I wanted to get back into sports and I came to this gym and I saw this team and thought ‘I want to join them,’” said Islas.
From the beginning, she discovered she loved the rush of feeling strong and powerful at the end of sparring.
This will be Islas’ first judged fight due to difficulties finding local competition.
“Keely’s kind of unique because she weighed in; she showed up to the state tournament and there was nobody in her age and weight bracket for females,” said coach and gym owner Julie Di’ane Robles. “So, she automatically advanced to regionals in Compton, California, unopposed. And then while they were at regionals — same thing, there was nobody in her age and weight bracket.”
Their hope is that she will finally find competition in Missouri, but if not, Islas will at least get the opportunity to compete at their own Coolidge Throwdown Feb. 4 at the Coolidge Youth Center, just ahead of Silver Gloves. The event is expected to host 23 matches, including 12 fighters from Montana.
Keiser is the younger sibling of two other Robles boxers, Sakura and Ethan, who are title-holders but who have since retired from the sport.
Keiser began her journey at just 8½ years old. At one point, Julie said the whole Keiser family boxed at their gym.
This will be her first plane ride and national competition, but she has three fights under her belt already. That being said, like Islas, Keiser was pushed through to nationals due to lack of competition in her age and weight bracket at state and regionals.
In the past year “we’ve seen a huge difference in her training, and her confidence and just her ability in sparring and competing,” said Julie. “So, we’re really excited to see Nova compete at nationals, we really think she is going to do extremely well.”
Though she hasn’t won a fight yet, Keiser said she learns something new from every fight. Her first fight she believes “I was going through the motions,” she said. “My second fight, I was a little bit more cautious but excited, and then my third one, I was a little down because of my two lost fights, but I got through it and I’m pretty happy about that.”
Keiser said she plans to make Silver Gloves a clean slate. “I don’t want to think about other fights. I just want to think about the fights (in Missouri).”
In preparation for the competition, the team of four are meeting over the weekends to up their training and conditioning with “desert workouts,” according to Julie, to help them build “mental toughness.”
“We encourage running outside in different elements, rather than inside on a treadmill,” she said, “and that’s because at time where maybe it’s too hot or it’s too cold and you’ve got a cramp and you want to give up — that’s when you need to train your mind that you can get through it and you push through those obstacles.
“Same thing happens when you’re in the ring and you’re up against the ropes, maybe your opponent’s coming at you really hard and you’re in that mode where you want to give up — you’ve already trained your mind to work through those obstacles.”
Randy Robles, owner of the gym and coach as well, said they developed that idea from the great Muhammad Ali.
The community has a chance to see all four competitors in the ring on Feb. 4 at the fifth annual Coolidge Throwdown before they leave for Missouri. Tickets or a livestream of the event can be purchased at www.roblesboxing.ticketleap.com/cooltownthrowdown5.
Presale tickets start at two for $25, which ends Feb. 3, or they can be purchased with cash only at the door for $15 a person. Children under 4 are free.