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Bengal Bouts: Powers’ experience defined by Bouts mission

Andrew Gastelum | Friday, March 4, 2011

Walking down the stairs into the Pit in the catacombs of the JACC, the sound of a rhythmic, soothing throb — almost that of a heartbeat — came closer and closer. It turned out to be a boxer and his opponent for the day: a punching bag. Yet as the beat came nearer, senior captain Bobby Powers realized that the real heartbeat was actually farther away. Much, much farther — the very south of Asia to be exact.

That heartbeat is kept alive today by co-president Bobby Powers and the senior captains, both as they trained that afternoon against the bags and through fundraising for a cause thousands of miles away against the odds.

Powers’ defining moment in Bengal Bouts isn’t the championship he won sophomore year nor is it the fact that he has been in the finals in each of the past four years. Rather, it was venturing to Bangladesh after his title, seeing how much he has helped a community and how much more he still needed to help it.

“There was a transformation within me,” Powers said of his trip to Bangladesh the summer before his junior year. “Going over there and making relationships with people and seeing what the money is going to has completely changed the program. It became a lot more about raising the money and aiding the missions than it was about boxing. The experience really opened up my eyes to a whole different world and how much the people over there need this.”

Powers’ selfless demeanor gleams through his words, which give credit for his success and that of the program’s to his fellow captains — in the purest form of individual sports, a sport in which the concept of “team” is nonexistent.

“You’re in the ring and it is just you,” Powers said. “You learn more about you in those six minutes than you do in years of your life by just seeing how deep you can dig.

“But on a day-to-day basis it all comes down to the guys here. This team has become a family and we have all put in so much time to boxing and fundraising to make sure we aid these missions,” Powers said.

Uninterested in the individual attention yet enamored with how he (or according to Powers: they) turned an individual sport into a team sport, the captain works on boxing at least six hours each day — four of those without even putting on a pair of gloves.

Powers and his opponents-turned-roommates have worked countless hours pushing themselves to be better in the ring, while focusing more so on building a program that will continue to aid the very same impoverished community that he visited two summers ago.

“We have worked really hard to spread the program out and changed things to run it more like a business so we can send more money back [to Bangladesh],” the senior said. “I would like to see the program continue to grow. If we raise a lot of money this year and see the figures go back down next year then we didn’t do our job. Our legacy should be leaving a foundation for this program, giving years ahead a foundation to build on and continue to grow.”

All of this comes from Powers, even though he didn’t even know what Bengal Bouts was until a friend suggested it to him after playing interhall football his freshman year.

Powers grew up in Indianapolis, very — and sometimes overly — competitive. With a brother one year younger, a friendly game of backyard basketball quickly and usually came to fisticuffs. Ten years later, substitute Mom with a referee and put gloves on the lad and you have a champion fighter who has known nothing but the final rounds under the bright lights.

“Growing up with [my brother], we were always pushing each other to get better and that’s where it comes in today, working together with others to always improve,” Powers said. “Bengal Bouts in general has shaped who I am.

Now the senior finds himself in his last fight as a Notre Dame student, up against opportunistic, feisty sophomore Ryan Alberdi for the championship belt. Powers plans to fight smart and mechanically.

Of course, the senior wants to win, but he realizes that he leaves Bengal Bouts forever tonight, knowing that he has already won in leaving that heartbeat he heard his freshmen year stronger than when he arrived.