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Bengal Bouts: Ward Experienced the sweet science early in life

Eric Retter | Friday, March 2, 2007

When Dan Ward’s older brother, James, was a student at Notre Dame, he would come home looking to practice the boxing he had learned.

More often than not, the elder Ward, who participated in the Bengal Bouts for three years and advanced to the semifinals his senior season, would turn his attention to his brother – who was three years his junior.

“He would want someone to practice on, and so he would beat up on me,” Dan Ward said.

As a result, Dan Ward was exposed to boxing in high school, and he felt drawn to the sport.

“I really liked the physical aspect of the sport,” he said. “And I needed a means to defend myself from my brother, so a combination of the two [drew me to boxing].”

Since that initial exposure, Ward has made quite a name for himself in the Bengal Bouts. After not boxing freshman year because of a scheduling conflict, Ward won the tournament as a sophomore, and advanced to the finals as a junior. He will compete in his third championship bout Saturday night.

Since those brotherly rumbles years ago, Ward has come a long way.

“When you put gloves on the first time, you lose awareness of boxing as a sport and you look at it as a fight,” he said. “I think that was the learning lesson for me. I would just be trying to physically hurt [my brother], and boxing is a sport with a scoring system.”

Now, Ward is known for his studied approach to the sport.

“I’m much more a student of the sport than I used to be,” he said. “I watch my opponents pretty carefully, find their weaknesses, then find ways to exploit those weaknesses.”

Ward compares the mental approach to boxing to that of wrestling, his best sport in high school.

“Mentally, wrestling is a great preparation,” he said. “It’s just you and the other guy out there on the mat, very similar to being in the ring.”

In fact, Ward would likely have tried to follow wrestling if Notre Dame fielded a team, and as a result may never have set foot in a ring. Still, Ward finds that the comparison between the sports has its limits.

“Boxing is different than any other sport,” he said. “You could be in great shape, you could be in marathon shape and come to a boxing workout and be dead in a half an hour just because the workout’s different.”

In his first year as captain, Ward has found satisfaction in leading those workouts for the younger boxers.

“I like helping guys develop and seeing the progress they’ve made and watch them build a stronger sense of confidence,” he said.

Still, Ward found the role to be initially daunting.

“When you have a bright-eyed bushy-tailed freshman ask you how to throw a punch or what type of diet you should be getting … you cant say ‘I don’t know,’ even though you may not know,” he said. “You’re expected to give an answer. I still feel very amateur to the sport. It’s a little bit of an eye opening experience.”

But that shock wore off quickly.

“I feel very comfortable with the program and with the boxers [now],” he said. “You see the program from the inside out and why things are done the way they are and how much work is actually involved getting something like this organized.”

If anyone, Ward would know something about being organized. In addition to the daily hours in the boxing room working out and training other fighters, Ward, who was president St. Edward’s Hall last year, is an Aerospace Engineering major, a member of the Air Force ROTC, and has participated in interhall soccer and football for four years.

“I’ve also got a girlfriend, which is pretty much like another three credit class in terms of time commitment,” he joked.

As a result, Ward has had to wisely spend his hours, but at the same time, he couldn’t live by a schedule that wasn’t busy.

“I’ve kind of been of the mindset that if you’re sitting around at your house watching TV at four in the afternoon, you’re doing something wrong,” he said. “This is the only time of your life where you have the opportunity of an adult but the freedom of a kid, and I’m of the mindset that you should take full advantage of that.”

Next year, Ward will head off to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Maria, Calif. He compared the base experience to that of a college campus.

“All your necessities are right there,” he said.

For at least the next four years, Ward will live and work at the base in southern California – which is the West Coast equivalent to Cape Canaveral and specializes in launching satellites.

“I’ll be an Astronautical Developmental Engineer,” he said. “That’s my duty title but I really don’t know what that means.”

Right now, Ward plans on fulfilling his four-year commitment and then entering civilian life, but he has not ruled out a military career.

“I’ve been to a lot of retirement ceremonies where guys have been in for 30 years and they’ll start out their speech by going, ‘you know, this was only supposed to be a four year run,” he said. “Right now I’m just leaving it open ended. I’m gonna do my four years and if I like what I’m doing I’ll stay, if I don’t, I’ll do something else.”