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Beyond the ring: Vasquez fosters sense of community among fellow boxers

| Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Serving as the president of Bengal Bouts this season, Alec “El Chupacabra” Vasquez from Morrissey Hall has worked relentlessly to prepare the club for its first tournament in two years.

Vasquez said he is excited to see the hard work of his club come to fruition over the course of the tournament and raise money for the Holy Cross mission in Bangladesh.

“We have two goals. One is to raise as much money as we can for the Holy Cross mission in Bangladesh, and the other is to help guys become the best boxers they can be,” Vasquez said. “If we had a third goal, it would be to get guys in shape and really empower them on a fitness level, and I think we have done that as well.”

Vasquez said the most rewarding part about being president is helping inexperienced members learn how to box.

“They have really made a commitment to perfecting their craft. We have so many guys that came in this fall, and their jab looked awful then,” Vasquez said. “And we just kept working with them, and now some of those guys are the ones that have had the most success in their spars and can have the most success in the tournament.”

One of Vasquez’s favorite parts of the club is the team aspect of the club, he said.

“Boxing is an individual sport, but our club incorporates a lot of team aspects,” he said. “We have guys that stay late working with each other, eat dinner with each other and text each other at night. We have formed a really great community, and I think that’s why the club has so much success. We all come together and work hard, and we all understand that we are doing this for a cause bigger than ourselves.”

The club is committed to the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh, a country the size of Illinois with a population of over 160 million people — a population density that makes it tough for many people to receive access to school and higher education.

Usually, captains of the club go to Bangladesh to better connect with the mission and learn about the Bangladeshi culture, but that hasn’t been possible with the pandemic.

Despite this, Vasquez said they have found ways to connect with the Bangladeshi community. He linked up with Fr. Paschal Sarker, who is from Bangladesh, last fall by going to dinner and mass with him.

This January, Vasquez had the opportunity to go over to the Saint Mary’s campus with Paschal and meet some students who went to Notre Dame University Bangladesh and who are now getting degrees from the University of Notre Dame.

“We have learned a lot about their culture,” Vasquez said. “They cooked a ginormous feast for us at the end of January, and we had a great time learning about their stories and how we can help them going forward as a club. The biggest thing right now is COVID relief, flood relief and continuing to fund the room and board for students who want to go to Notre Dame University Bangladesh and the professors there too.”

Catholics represent roughly 0.2% of Bangladesh’s population, and they often lack opportunities for education and faith development as a minority group. The Holy Cross mission seeks to help Bangladeshi Catholics find success and practice their religion, he said.

“It really gives this Catholic minority a chance to break out of that social mold, make something out of their life, and maybe even come here and study like some of them are doing,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez has also re-connected with captains from previous years who got to travel to Bangladesh. He had each of them write a reflection on their time there, and read their reflections to the team this season to share the experiences past boxers had.

He added that he is ecstatic for the return of the tournament and all the excitement that comes with it.

“It’s a nerve-wracking feat, being in front of the entire campus, but it is such a cool feeling to be in there in front of your friends, family and those who have supported you along the way,” Vasquez said. “It’s one of the coolest traditions that Notre Dame has. I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Having the tournament back in person has also benefited fundraising, as the club has already raised around $151,000. Vasquez shared that the club has never reached $100,000 that fast, let alone over $150,000.

Unfortunately, Vasquez will not be able compete in the tournament because of a history of concussions, some of which are not related to boxing, he said.

“I wish I was competing. I think, personally, I have improved a lot since sophomore year when I last boxed,” Vasquez said. “I think as a boxer, I can prove a lot, and I wish I could put that to the test in the ring.”

Despite not being able to compete, Vasquez said he has stayed motivated by teaching inexperienced boxers. He said he also looks forward to cornering lots of boxers throughout the tournament.

“I am going to be cornering almost all night, and that’s super rewarding to me because I love this sport, and I am going to be cornering guys that I have worked with since day one,” Vasquez said. “I will be giving them technical feedback between rounds, but I also will be extremely loud and lighting a fire under their belt.”

Looking back on his first year, Vasquez remembered the profound impact the captains from that season had on him. Vasquez shared a memorable experience when the club had to go to the Monogram Room of the Joyce Center for a difficult workout led by one of the captains.

Vasquez recalled doing a difficult ladder workout that took around 30 minutes, and he and his teammates were completely exhausted by the end. The captain who was leading the workout, however, was not happy with the effort put forth by the guys, and he made everyone do the workout again.

He shared what this experience was like for him.

“For the first 10 minutes [of doing it again] I was thinking to myself, ‘I hate this guy and I am not going to finish this,’” Vasquez said. “But then, you get to a point where you look around and realize we are here together doing this, so we might as well rally together and do this. And we did. That’s the beauty of the club … You can make so many great things happen by having strength in numbers.”

The team always chants “Strength in numbers” in Bangla at the end of practice.

“Hearing that chant the other day made me realize that guys care about helping each other out in the program,” Vasquez said. “Whether it’s a coach, whether it’s a fellow boxer, whether it’s a manager, we care about each other and that’s why we have so much success. Our relationships extend beyond the ring.”

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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