Patience and hard work pay off for Wilborn in fifth year
Colin Capece | Friday, March 1, 2019
For fifth-year senior Bengal Bouts captain Dan Wilborn, the path to Friday’s 142-pound division final has certainly been unique. The Rochester, New York, native has overcome some difficult obstacles to reach this culmination of his boxing career.
“If you would have told me at the end of my junior year that by my fifth year I would be fighting in the finals, I would have been amazed,” he said.
Wilborn was a late arriver to the men’s boxing program, joining the club in his junior year after attending the bouts as a spectator his sophomore year.
“I thought it was a really cool thing, and I thought I wanted to give it a try,” Wilborn said. “When I brought up the idea to some of my roommates, they all said there was no way I could box.”
Despite the skepticism from his friends, Wilborn began attending practices that fall and was instantly drawn to the program.
“I loved the intensity of the workouts, I loved the team atmosphere of the club and I decided that I would stick with it,” he said.
Unfortunately for Wilborn, he became severely ill in December of his junior year, and was unable to recover in time to fight in the tournament.
“Going and watching the bouts knowing that I missed out on the opportunity to fight made me so angry,” Wilborn said. “Realizing that I now only had two years left to fight motivated me more than anything.”
Determined to get back in the ring for his senior year, Wilborn made a renewed commitment to the program and took his training to another level.
“I was at open gym every day training hard, and by last year when I came in, I was in great shape and felt great about boxing again,” he said.
The hard work in the offseason paid off for Wilborn, as he made a run to the semifinals in the 2018 tournament. This year, the captain is determined to finally capture the lightweight title in his last year, and said his complete commitment to his craft has ultimately led him to this moment.
“I worked here at Notre Dame over the summer, and pretty much every day I came down to the gym to train,” Wilborn said. “I was trying to get in the mindset that I would be fighting on March 1 and that I would be ready when the day came. That day is almost here. This is what all the hard work has gone towards.”
Each year, a number of students who are seniors like Wilborn decide to join Bengal Bouts before they graduate. The captain said these novices embody what the spirit of the club is all about.
“I think a lot of seniors decide to join as kind of a bucket list thing, but a lot of guys really start to buy in and go all in,” Wilborn said. “For me as a guy who joined late, those guys are some of my favorite people. Even though they only get one year, they still push themselves to be the best boxers they can.”
Wilborn approaches his role as a captain and his responsibility to mentor these novice boxers with the same kind of commitment he makes to his own training. His devotion to the other members of the club has been unwavering this year.
“As a captain, you have to remember to always put the club first,” Wilborn said. “If that means sticking around a little longer to work with a guy, or helping set up a ring up in Dahnke Ballroom, then that’s my responsibility.”
Many of the younger club members place their trust in Wilborn come tournament time, and he said he is always willing to be in a boxer’s corner. While he usually has many boxers to support, Wilborn said each fight is equally important.
“I realized that during the tournament, I actually enjoy cornering more than I do competing. The satisfaction of seeing someone else fight their best fight because of your encouragement is truly amazing,” he said. “I have to put everything I have into each bout I corner. A fight may be one of 10 for me that night, but to that guy in the ring, those three rounds mean everything.”
Another aspect of the men’s boxing club Wilborn has found fulfilling is the fundraising aspect of the tournament, as boxers work hard to raise money to support Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh. Wilborn believes this mission is what creates the atmosphere of a team, even though boxing is an individual sport.
“The fundraising is everything for Bengal Bouts. It’s amazing how with the money we raise, we support the construction of schools for some of the most impoverished people in the world, and kids can eat for months at a time,” he said. “When you tie together the fundraising aspect with the boxing, you see great sportsmanship, and it reminds us all why we get in the ring to fight. Even as two guys try to pummel each other, they hug at the end of the fight knowing they fought for a great cause. It gives us a purpose.”
As his boxing career at Notre Dame draws to a close, Wilborn is reflecting on the experience he said was the best decision he made in college.
“I’ve thought a lot about what that final moment in the ring will be like,” he said. “For me, winning the title would be the culmination of a lot of hard work.”