Nico Hernandez returned to classes at North High this week with a whale of a summer vacation story.
Already a Junior Olympic national-champion boxer, Hernandez, 16, spent two weeks training and fighting in Russia as part of a U.S. delegation at the Veles Cup.
Hernandez won three of four bouts in the 101-pound class against competition from Russia, Ireland and Germany. He won the division with the best record and was named the tournament’s most outstanding boxer.
“He’s No. 1 in the U.S.,” his father and trainer, Lewis Hernandez, said at the North Side Boxing Team 316 gym on North Market.
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The trip to Russia for the Veles Cup was sponsored by USA Boxing. After flights to Moscow, the U.S. team boarded a bus for a five-hour ride to Kurgan.
“They didn’t treat us very well at all,” Hernandez said. “Where we stayed, it was like a jail with 13 of us in one room. They didn’t even have a toilet, just a hole in the ground.”
Hernandez said he lost nine pounds in a week because the food was inedible. He called his father back in the United States to complain about the conditions and tell him how much weight he was losing.
Since beginning his boxing career, Hernandez has won eight consecutive Ringside World Tournament championships, beginning at 55 pounds and most recently at 101. He’s also tied for the most national Silver Glove championship wins at six.
Hernandez will turn 17 in January and move into the men’s division, fighting opponents 17 to 34. If he wins a national championship at that level, he’ll qualify for the Olympic Trials for the 2016 Olympics.
“Unfortunately, boxing has never been a big deal in Kansas,” Lewis Hernandez said. “But my hat is off to him. He’s been through a lot and he’s won a lot of championships.”
Father and son share mutual admiration for the other.
“He’s done everything for me my whole life,” said Nico.
Hernandez has dreams for his future, cheered on by his father. He has his eyes set on attending college, possibly on a boxing scholarship.
“The University of Michigan has a boxing program,” his father said. “I don’t think God gives you all of this talent to waste it.”
When he’s not training for a boxing tournament, Nico is on the North cross country team. He said it helps him stay in condition.
And he’s a bit of a poet, something his dad said he doesn’t really want people to know about. But he won two poetry contests while in the eighth grade.
Boxing, of course, were the topics.
If his dream comes true, Hernandez will appear in the 2016 Olympics.
“I’m broke all of the time,” Lewis Hernandez said. “But if you don’t go to good tournaments, you don’t get to where you need to be.
“And I tell him you don’t fight for the glory. You fight because it’s what you like to do.”