Student Highlight: Salaam Gonzales

23What were you doing at 5am this morning…Happen to run a 10k? How about at 5pm today…Plan on doing over 600 push ups in an hour? (That’s one push up every six seconds for sixty minutes for anyone honestly considering it.) And how is that six-pack coming along…Think you’ll make time for a thousand crunches?111

For most of us, we were probably still sleeping at 5am, and then probably thinking about what to have for dinner at 5pm….which did not involve a salad…So six pack? Yeah right.

But to be great, you have to be willing to do what others aren’t. Fifteen-year-old competitive boxer and Denver Online High School student Salaam Gonzales knows this all too well. “My ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics and get a medal,” he said.  So every early morning he runs, every evening he trains, and countless weekends he competes.

55The high school junior was initiated into the boxing world at the age of three, with his first match at age eight. He said, “My first fight was in the Golden Gloves, and I lost it.” Defeat spurred him on, saying, “I really pushed hard all year to win that next year.” And he did: his first big win. “It was the first tournament I’d ever won, and I just felt really proud of myself I guess. It just felt good.”

To date, he’s won the Pikes Peak International Tournament, the Silver Gloves four times, and the Golden Gloves over five times. He’s also competed in the finals at nationals three different years.

33But the wins don’t come easy. Gonzales commits to an intense training regimen. One of the drills he performs is completing as many push-ups in an hour as he can. “My highest was 644,” he said. “My arms are pretty much done after a hundred,” he laughed, having to grit through the next five hundred somehow.

88His schedule is also paired with practice sparring matches three times a week where he fights a range of people. “One time my dad brought in a heavy weight, and he was like 6’5”” he laughed. “It was mainly me just trying to get to him,” explaining his opponent’s tactic: the stiff arm.

122In every tournament, he also fights around four people in order to claim a tournament victory. When asked if it ever hurts when he gets hit, he said with humble confidence, “I don’t really get hit that much. But maybe for other people.”

99However, his sureness in the ring wasn’t always so strong. When he first started his boxing career, he said, “I use to carry around some magnets,” in hopes of positively impacting his fight prosperity. He laughed, “I just thought they were good luck.”

He’s soon since said goodbye to the superstitious items, smiling, “I just come alone now.” Instead he falls back on training he’s received from some incredible coaches. His dad has been one of his biggest mentors, having trained under the 1976 Olympic silver medalist himself. The teen has also been coached by Ron Lyle who fought Muhammad Ali in the 70’s, WBC (World Boxing Council) World Champion Lonnie Smith who once battled against Julio César Chávez, and now Robert Baca at 20th Street Recreation Center.

100The commitment is real on both sides, Gonzales saying, “My coach picks me up for practice,” three days a week. Under pressure, he remembers what his coach taught him: “Stay aggressive,” “don’t get sloppy,” and “move around and keep your hands up.” He expressed his latest approach, saying, “My coach has recently had me throw a jab a little more.”

140But the countless hours of preparation are worth it when Gonzales enters the ring, performing for five judges and a crowd full of people. “Sometimes before you get real nervous, but as soon as the bell rings, you just feel mellow. It just feels right I guess.”130

Gonzales came to Denver Online High School as a freshman. “It seemed like a better choice for me than regular school,” he said, “It let me focus on my boxing.” The athlete completes schoolwork from Denver Online’s physical location at Smedley Learning Center after he runs in the morning and before he trains in the afternoon.   Now in his third year at Denver Online, he said, “It’s a little harder [than traditional school] because there’s not always a teacher right there. But better because it’s good to depend on yourself.”

Most of us aren’t cut out to be boxers. (Because those chin-ups just look way too hard, let’s be honest.) And just like we aren’t all made to be boxers, we also aren’t all made to be online students either. Online schooling is difficult and takes a lot of determination from self-motivated students. Even though Denver Online High School works diligently to provide great coaches, the teachers and staff, students still have to find it in themselves to commit to the hard work it takes to graduate.

But whether they be athletes, teen parents, band performers, traveling models, or the like, online education provides a unique ring for those determined students to step into. It provides an option for students to outshine those peers in their “brackets” from traditional schools by simply allowing them to complete coursework flexibly around their extracurricular passions or responsibilities.

So go get your jab on and stay aggressive, Salaam. Go claim that medal, you’ve got this. Denver Online will be their cheering for you (probably eating nachos… no salad).77