Dreaming Big, Moving Forward

AJ Sanders

AJ Sanders

Double R.R. Fight Team – Hit-Fit Boxing Studio

Published June 2024

AJ Sanders, 15, to compete in the 2024 USA Boxing National Junior Olympics

According to AJ Sanders, a 15-year-old Goshen High School student, it took some time for his mom, Lina Esquibel, to get used to the idea of her wide-eyed, jovial teenage son inside of a boxing ring.

“The first time my mom ever watched me box, she saw me catch a few decent punches and I thought she was going to jump into the ring and beat the other kid up,” said Sanders, a 2023 Indiana Silver Gloves champion who was selected to compete in June’s prestigious USA Boxing National Junior Olympics in Wichita, Kansas. “She’s gotten used to it all, and now she’s great. She’s my biggest fan.”

Sanders, set to compete in a loaded 138-pound division in Kansas, had no background in the sport before joining Hit-Fit Boxing Studio eighteen months ago. Hit-Fit, located in downtown Goshen’s The Bubble, is owned and operated by Goshen resident and former boxer Arturo Rodriguez, once a heralded amatuer whose own boxing career was ended by a 2013 eye injury.

Rodriguez also operates his Double R.R. Fight Team—a more rigorous club for serious, young boxers—out of the same space.

“AJ literally showed up out of nowhere one day—a skinny lefty who didn’t know much at all about boxing,” said Rodriguez,  “And look where he’s at now—he’s going to compete in the National Junior Olympics. This is a big deal. It’s a big deal for our gym, it’s a big deal for the City of Goshen, and it’s a big deal for AJ. A lot of great young boxers get turned away for this event. I wasn’t that surprised that AJ was selected, because he has what it takes, but you have to really be doing something right for this to happen.”

AJ Sanders and Coach Arturo Rodriguez
AJ Sanders
AJ Sanders

Sanders, whose favorite boxers are Ryan Garcia and Tommy Hearns, was thrilled when he found out he’d been selected for the National Junior Olympics.

“We all came in at 5 p.m. to practice, like any regular day, and after I came back from my run Coach Arturo told me I made it,” said Sanders. “I was really happy. I’ve put so much hard work into this. I’m here everyday working on my boxing, and to get an opportunity to go compete with elite boxers from all over the country is amazing.

“It’s exciting, but it also just encourages my path. When I started boxing I was still in middle school and I was kind of a mess. I was following the lead of kids who were trying to be cool and acting mean. I remember always feeling nervous and anxious. When I started boxing something about it calmed me down a lot. I learned how to have mental discipline, and feel confident. I went from C’s and F’s on my school report card to B’s and A’s. This has been good for me in a lot of ways.”

Showing up is half the battle

“It takes an incredible amount of work to get to where AJ has gotten as a boxer,” said Rodriguez. “You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and you have to show up every day, even on those days when you really don’t want to go. There’s no doubt that, in a short time, boxing has changed this young man’s life for the better.”

Rodriguez has high hopes for Sanders. Beyond faring well in Kansas and continuing to grow and improve, the coach would like to see his student participate in the Olympics one day, and someday go professional and pursue a world title. In this moment, however, Rodriguez is simply proud and happy to have the chance to impact young lives.

“I hope parents and kids read this, and want to give our boxing gym a try,” said Rodriguez. “Boxing is not easy, but for kids who stick with it they develop true discipline and a strong belief in themselves. That can carry someone far, no matter what they decide to do. To have a great kid like AJ working hard and dreaming big—and making a real name for himself—is a true blessing.

“It makes me proud, because this is what I love to do. I didn’t get my chance. Back in 2013, I had a career-ending injury just a few months before my pro debut. It was crushing. All these years later, to be working with kids like AJ and all my Double R.R. boxers, and to see them dream big, believe in themselves, and achieve great things—that’s just magical.”

Getting back to business

No matter the outcome in Kansas, Sanders—who experienced some unfamiliar adversity in recent bouts—plans to pounce on every opportunity presented.

“I lost at the Silver Glove nationals, and my last few fights I felt like I was moving back too much, maybe waiting too much and being too careful,” Sanders said. “In Kansas, I want to get back to my style. I want to use my advantage as a lefty, use my reach and my speed and my power, and jump right in with pressure when I have the chance. I don’t want to be stepping back; I want to be moving forward. I want to always be moving forward.”

Hit-Fit Boxing Studio, 302 S. Main Street, offers Kids Boxing for ages 8-11, Boxing 101 for ages 12+, the Double R.R. Fight Team for more advanced students, Women’s Classes, and a range of programs for people of all ages interested in The Sweet Science. For more information, call Coach Arturo at (574) 536-6376 or visit Hit-Fit’s website here https://www.facebook.com/p/Hit-Fit-Boxing-Studio-100082837732983/.

Written by Jake Sandock

Photos courtesy of Hit-Fit Boxing Studio