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Taylor Vucinich recalls journey overcoming unhealthy habits to eventual championship, leadership in Bengal Bouts

| Thursday, February 13, 2020

For senior captain Taylor Vucinich, Notre Dame men’s boxing has been a driver of transformation, development and growth. The California native came to campus his freshman year with a will to box, but he wasn’t necessarily up to the task physically.

“Freshman year I fought at 245 pounds,” Vucinich said. “I think I was the third heaviest kid in the club. I was supremely out of shape. My tradition after practice was to go get like a five- or six-dollar box of Taco Bell and just pound that for dinner, because for some reason I thought that was the fuel I needed.”

Vucinich fought in the Bouts his first year, and they didn’t go as well as they could have.

“So, I ended up even gaining a little bit of weight and I fought at a weight way heavier than what I should have been,” he said. “I ended up losing in the first round, twisted my ankle in the first round because I was just so out of shape. I didn’t even have my footing under me.”

Nola Wallace | The Observer

Senior Taylor Vucinich works with a punching bag during a Bengal Bouts training session Feb. 6 at the Joyce Center.

It would have been easy for Vucinich to walk away the new sport after an unsuccessful first outing. But the trials of freshman year set the now captain on a path which spurred transformation inside the ring and out.

“And then that kind of triggered it within me to realize, ‘OK, I really need to change something about my lifestyle — I’ve gotten very unhealthy,’” he said. “It didn’t start immediately. For the rest of that semester, Taco Bell was still really featured in my diet. But the second I went home I really buckled down and ended up losing the weight and got a lot healthier.”

With a new demeanor and a summer of healthy habits under his belt, Vucinich returned to campus his sophomore year a new fighter.

“My sophomore year, I weighed in at 160, obviously an 80-pound difference from the year before, and I ended up making it to the semifinals and losing in what I think is the closest fight I’ve seen in a really long time,” he said. “There were plenty of punches thrown, but I didn‘t deserve to win. I was very, very, very exhausted by the end.”

But beyond the physical transformation inside the ring, Vucinich came to see the Bouts as a whole in a new light. His mind turned to the mission and the goals of the club outside of the pit.

“Sophomore year, I really just became enamored with the program,” Vucinich said. “I had always been a fan of boxing coming to Notre Dame. I had always watched it. I watched professionals fight, of course. But the mission really was something that I grabbed onto because I‘ve always felt that I‘m in a fortunate position, like so many of us at Notre Dame are. We‘re in a position that we should give back because we have no reason not to. So that is something that really helped me buckle down and focus on getting myself in better shape so I can perform better in something that means a lot to me.”

After a comeback to remember, Vucinich spent the fall semester of his junior year in Washington, D.C. But, having been chosen as a captain, he was still very much involved in the club from afar.

“I was detached from the program, but I was still communicating with the captains who were here, knowing how things were going,” he said. “Obviously I wasn’t a chief leader of the program, that was still the seniors, but I was still up there, and people could always come to me.”

But upon returning to campus, things started to pick up. In his first year as captain, Vucinich came to know the challenges that came with assuming a leadership position while still trying to hone your own technique. But he also came to know what makes being a captain in the men’s boxing club so special.

“You really have to commit more hours than you already did to the program if you really want to improve yourself as a boxer,” Vucinich said. “Because you’ll come in to workout at the beginning of the day, and then someone might say, ‘Hey, can you work with me?’ And you’re not going to say no because that is honestly the most rewarding part about being a captain and being in leadership in this club, is that there are so many guys that do look up to you and so many guys that do want to learn from you.”

Vucinich went on to claim the championship in his weight class during his junior year, the culmination of his boxing transformation from the out-of-shape freshman who went out in round one.

He will be going out on top, as he is unable to fight this year due to health reasons.

”It took a little while to get over that, because this is something that I’ve been looking forward to,” Vucinich said. “It took the sting off a little bit being able to win last year.”

Still, Vucinich’s tenacity remains — it’s merely pointed in a different direction.

”Much of my time in the pit is devoted to watching different guys spar, trying to give feedback where I can, holding mitts for guys, trying to develop the club as a whole,” Vucinich said. “Trying to stand as a figure where I can be approachable for people to come to me for any reason they need to. I’m in charge of workouts on top of a lot of things that go on in the sparring, so my biggest goal this year was just overall club growth in a direction of everybody trying to help each other and a lot of camaraderie.”

Now at the tail end of his Notre Dame boxing career, Vucinich raves about the unique ability to see growth in yourself and others through Notre Dame boxing.

“Something that is really special about Bengal Bouts that nothing else on campus really matches is just the tradition within it,” Vucinich said. “… Because it is a sport that not a lot of people have had experience with before coming to college, guys grow from the ground up. You see the levels which people can get to.”

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