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How a timely donation 6 years ago altered the history of Lewis and Nico Hernandez

Lewis Hernandez poses with Nico before his son competed in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Lewis briefly contemplated leaving boxing altogether in 2011.
Lewis Hernandez poses with Nico before his son competed in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Lewis briefly contemplated leaving boxing altogether in 2011. File photo

Lewis Hernandez, the father of Nico Hernandez, has also been his son’s trainer throughout a career including amateur national titles, an Olympic bronze medal, and most recently a professional victory.

As the duo prepare for Hernandez’s upcoming bout on Saturday night at Hartman Arena against Jose Rodriguez, it’s difficult to imagine one without the other.

But six years ago, well before his son’s fame, Lewis Hernandez wanted out of boxing. He had just completed a divorce from the mother of his four children and bills were piling up as Lewis tried to raise all four children on his own, on top of training Nico and logging 60-hour work weeks as a mechanic. He had reached his breaking point.

“I was going to give up the gym,” Lewis said, in reference to 316 Northside Boxing Club. “I didn’t want no part of it no more. I prayed to God, ‘Tell me what you want me to do because I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.’ I was mentally frustrated, mentally broken down. We went through a lot of praying and a lot of heartache as a family.”

Soon after his breakdown, Lewis came home one day that summer to an envelope addressed to the Hernandez family at the foot of his door.

He opened it to reveal a letter and a check for $10,000 from a stranger named Marge Page, who Lewis would later find out touched thousands of lives of Wichita youth through generous donations before she died in 2012.

“I opened it and I was in awe,” said Lewis, who still to this day chokes up when recounting the generosity. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Nico Hernandez beat Pat Gutierrez by technical knock out in the fourth round of their junior bantamweight match at the Kansas Star Casino.

Lewis found a phone number for Page and called to thank her for the donation.

“She told me, ‘This isn’t my money, this is what God told me to do. This is God’s money,’ ” Lewis recouunted. “This was right after I was praying about it, so after that I was like, ‘I guess I got to pick myself up and get up.’ That was my answer.”

The money was used to catch up on bills, buy a new ring for the gym, and help fund Nico to travel across the country to compete in national tournaments.

“I had a whole new outlook on life after that,” Lewis said. “We did a lot with that money. It was a blessing like no other. I always get choked up about it because that was a very rough time in my life. It was very, very hard. But God is great and He took care of us.”

Those tough times still stand out to Nico.

“I remember not being able to pay some of the bills,” Nico said. “When we took baths we didn’t have hot water, so we would have to warm up some water on the stove. I remember my father not getting off work until late and coming home freezing cold from working on trash trucks. When I saw him struggling for us, that just made me want to succeed even more to see better for him.”

Life improved after the donation from Page and Lewis regained his passion for the sport.

After Nico has gone on to become an Olympian and a professional boxer, Lewis says the thought of what might have happened if he sold the gym back in 2011 has never crossed his mind.

He doesn’t have time to worry about the past now, he said. He’s only concerned about the future.

“I got my answer and I got refreshed,” Lewis said. “I knew it was time to go back to work and we have been incredibly blessed over the years. We’re thankful and we’re excited to see where it goes from here.”

With the Northside Boxing Academy out of commission due to a fire in November, Nico Hernandez returned to training in a small room in the house he shares with his father and coach, Lewis Hernandez, in north Wichita. Hernandez will debut in his fir

Hernandez vs. Rodriguez

  • What: Nico Hernandez (1-0, 1 KO) vs. Jose Rodriguez (2-0, 2 KO), 6 rounds, flyweight
  • When: 9 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Hartman Arena, Park City
  • TV: CBS Sports Network
  • Tickets: From $17
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