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Demko earns his captaincy

Luke Busam | Thursday, March 4, 2004

For most Bengal Bouts boxers the start of January practice is in reality a return to practice. Novices come in with five weeks of fall training behind them and the veterans arrive with a year or more of experience. Tommy Demko came to his first January practice in the winter of 2001 with nothing, not even hand wraps.What for everyone else was a return to training was actually day one for Demko.”I walked into the room the first day of regular training totally clueless,” Demko said. “I didn’t really know anybody, and everyone else seemed like they knew what was going on. I didn’t even have a pair of wraps much less know how to put them on.”As a freshman, Demko may have been inexperienced, but now, as a senior, he commands the attention of over 130 boxers with calm confidence. Leading them in calisthenics, teaching jabs and even instructing them on how to put on hand wraps, the captain is in his element. Demko has come a long way since that first day in January, but a look at his boxing career reveals that the talent was all there from the beginning. Minute evolutions, not drastic changes, mark his development both as a boxer and as a person.Demko said he was not as nervous as he expected himself to be before his first fight. He had experienced big crowds from his football days at Centerville High School in Centerville, Ohio. That fight ended in a split-decision loss to Chris Pearsall, but Demko turned the event into a motivator.”Losing that close split decision my freshman year motivated me to improve my skills, really spend a lot of time in the gym,” he said.Training alone over the summer and fall, Demko’s work ethic grew. He built on the resolve that got him through the early days of practice, and the evolution began.”I set a goal that I would spend an hour before practice and an hour after practice working out,” he said. “I was not going to lose as a result of being outworked.”As a sophomore the extra hours paid off. Demko advanced to the semifinals, losing in a called fight against former football player Matt Sarb. A huge right hand on the chin from Sarb landed Demko on the mat.”The fall looked bad,” Demko said. “I admit it now after seeing it onfilm. I was stunned momentarily but Iknew I could fight on.”Demko did not “fight on” that night, but his performance as a sophomore earned him a junior captainship with the club. Mark Criniti, a coach instrumental in Demko’s development as a boxer, had offered lessons during the fighter’s first two years. In training sessions and sparring with Criniti as a junior, Demko achieved a personal goal.”Every time we would spar he would dominate me,” Demko said. “What frustrated me the most was that Mark was so good defensively, I could never get a good clean shot on him. One day I finally landed a good clean jab on him. His nose started bleeding and he was dazed. I knew at that point that I was starting to become a pretty good boxer.”That jab marked another step in Demko’s boxing career, an important step toward complete self-confidence. He reached the semifinals again as a junior, losing in another split decision to Pearsall.As a senior, captain Demko believes his undying persistence will lead to success.”During my first three years in the bouts I had found some success but I had also taken my fair share of knocks and have yet to reach the level of success I’ve aimed for since the beginning,” he said. “I am confident my persistence will help me get to where I want to be.”As club co-president, Demko has taken on a number of significant duties this year. From running practice and refereeing sparring matches to doing paperwork and running errands, the tasks sometimes leave less time for training. This has meant increased hours before and after practice as he prepares his final run in the tournament.Outside the ring, Demko’s non-boxing life has followed a similar evolution. As a freshman, Demko was the Air Force Daedalian Scholarship recipient. Air Force ROTC has been his other major involvement on campus for the past four years.”I’ve metsome great people, have learned many things about being a leader, and it hasputme in positionto fulfill my dream of being a pilot in the United States Air Force,” he said.In addition to excelling in boxing, Demko achieved dean’s list honors every semester since enrolling at Notre Dame. His dedication has paid off. Next year Demko will begin a selective pilot training program called Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training. It is a highly intense 54-week program designed to produce fighter pilots for the United States Air Force and for the air forces of eight other NATO nations. Demko says that his personal evolution with the boxing club will help be a great asset while training in the elite program.”Theworkethic, mental toughness and confidence thatI have gained through boxing have prepared me to thrive in this type of highly competitive and pressure filled environment,” Demko said.Demko’s great accomplishments all stem from the determination and courage he displayed on day one as he chose the foreign sport of boxing. It was all there from the beginning – everything except the hand wraps.