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Competitive spirit, leadership and drive: Ryan Smith fights with a chip on his shoulder

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

Bengal Bouts junior captain Ryan “Shortstack” Smith has always fought with a chip on his shoulder.

“I was never the best athlete on any sports team growing up,” Smith said. “I was pretty good, and my sports were always my biggest passion, but I was never the star of the show.”

Whether because he was “too short or too slow,” he never made any of his high school teams.

“I came close a bunch of times, whether it was baseball or football, but ultimately, I always fell short,” Smith said. “That’s why if you ever see me box, I fight with a chip on my shoulder just because I remember those times where I fell short, and I wasn’t able to reach those goals.”

He appreciates Bengal Bouts for fueling his competitive drive but still allowing anyone who participates a chance to box.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Junior captain Ryan “Shortstack” Smith jabs at his opponent during the semifinal round of the 2019 Bengal Bouts on Feb. 26.

“At the time it was disappointing,” Smith said. “Now, having a club that serves as an outlet where I can really see myself grow as an athlete, it’s given me the opportunity to really develop instead of cutting me like those other clubs in high school. It’s been my inspiration that no matter how successful I become, I always remember those times where I fell short.” 

Smith’s “Shortstack” nickname relates to that, but he also simply enjoys pancakes.

“It speaks to my stature, always the shorter guy in the ring, usually,” Smith said. “I love pancakes too. So a short stack of pancakes was what I picked freshman year and it’s kind of stuck since, so it’s been funny to see how that’s grown over the years.”

Participating in the club is more than just the boxing and workout, Smith asserted. 

“It’s the brotherhood, the camaraderie that you formed with these guys,” he said. “I’ve met some of my closest friends at Notre Dame through the boxing club. Just being able to come here and know that I’m surrounded by people who care about my development as a boxer and as an athlete, it’s really special and really the main reason why I look forward to coming every day.”

Despite boxing being an individual sport, Smith maintains there is a real sense of team spirit between the boxers.

“[It’s] something that took a while for me to get adjusted to, the fact that … you go to war with this guy for 5 to 10 minutes and afterwards you hug it out like brothers,” he said.

It’s almost like a paradox, Smith said, in which Bouts members train as a team for months leading up to the tournament, despite the individuality component of the sport.

“So even though … everyone’s out here to beat the last boxer standing in their weight class, win or lose you both have that understanding that you both put in that sweat to make it this far, and you definitely develop an appreciation for the other guy,” Smith said.

Taking on a leadership role has been incredibly valuable to Smith as well. He calls it his greatest privilege in college so far.

“I remember just two years ago, didn’t seem like that long ago, that I was here and scared out of my mind as a freshman, looking up to these guys thinking the juniors and senior captains … were so much better than me as a boxer and as an athlete,” Smith said.

The way the team has grown and come together speaks to the club’s mission and brotherhood, Smith asserted.

“It’s pretty incredible to see the development that I’ve seen in myself and other guys in my graduating class,” he said. “We’ve come up together as a group and kind of taken on that mantle of leadership. It’s rewarding for sure.”

His growth through the club has taken place outside of the ring as well, particularly through his self-confidence and determination. 

“Coming in here freshman year, I would never guess that I’d be a captain, much less as successful as a boxer as I have been,” Smith said. “But just the amount of sweat and the hard work and the mental equity that I’ve put into the club has really paid off, more than just being a good boxer.”

After three years in the club, Smith now believes Bengal Bouts is ultimately about being a leader and passing on what he’s learned to younger generations.

“The club has really shown that I do have that ability to speak to novices and the young guys that are coming up in the next generation of boxers,” Smith said. “And that’s really been the most rewarding thing about my experience so far.“

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