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One coach, two captains, three stories

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The UW Boxing Team's journey to its best-ever weekend at the Washington Athletic Club was the product of sustained commitment to a demanding workout schedule, injuries, and mental hurdles. After spending several weeks following the group of amateur boxers, I narrowed in on the lives of two boxers and their coach. From the perspective of team captains Kiel Hicks and Abdirahman Omar and coach Chris Mendez, this is what being a part of the 9-year-old team looks like today.

Kiel Hicks

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Hicks has spent the past two years recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The injury occurred just before his first bout, meaning that he had yet to compete in an official boxing match.

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Hicks leads warm-ups for the UW Boxing club, one of his duties as team captain. The team originally practiced out at the IMA, but now operates out of nearby Emerald City Boxing Gym on Roosevelt Way.

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The night before his first bout, Hicks sheds off the last few remaining pounds of his weight cut. Before him, the ring crew sets up the next night's stage at the Washington Athletic Club. The WAC's main event is a two-night collegiate boxing event featuring fighters from colleges across the country.

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Hicks receives final advice from Mendez before walking out to his first bout. Hicks will not only fight on this night, but the next night as well  meaning that unless he suffers too much damage, he will need to cut weight again immediately after the match.

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Hicks lands a knockout uppercut on his opponent, earning his first victory in his first boxing match, a win that he has been waiting for the past two years since a shoulder injury postponed his boxing debut.

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Hicks lands a punch during his second fight of the weekend. Hicks went on to win the bout by decision, bringing in an undefeated weekend for his first-ever bouts.

Abdirahman Omar

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Captain Abdirahman Omar works on his cardiovascular conditioning between sparring sessions. Fighters at the UW Boxing Club train on Monday and Thursday nights, and have to keep in shape in between team training.

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Omar cuts weight inside of the sauna at the Washington Athletic Club after the first night of bouts. Omar had to lose approximately four pounds before 8 a.m. the next morning, when weigh-ins began.

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Omar's biggest asset is his size. With long arms and height, he is able to rattle opponents from a distance while keeping himself out of harms way.

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Omar trades blows with his opponent from the Air Force Academy on the first night of bouts at the WAC. Omar went on to win the fight by unanimous decision after three rounds of boxing.

Chris Mendez

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Around 40 fighters make up UW Boxing Club, coached by Chris Mendez. The members go through a grueling boot camp, with about 120 participants. Only approximately 30 percent of those who try out at boot camp become members of the club, but are encouraged to continue working towards joining the team.

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Mendez and coach Ricardo Acuna advise Hicks between rounds. The corner's job is not only to protect the fighter and clean up any cuts, but also to give tactical advice that the fighter may not be noticing throughout the bout.

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At the end of the second night, Mendez gathered his fighters, and brought his mother into the huddle for an ending speech. The UW Boxing Club posted its best ever record at the WAC's Main Event weekend, finishing 8-1. Mendez stressed that the true success was not the record, but the bonds and personal growth the team gained from the experience.

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