Military News

Thursday, March 26, 2015

USARAK officer vies for slot on Olympic boxing team

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

3/26/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Its 4 a.m. Much of the working world is still asleep, but not her. She is getting ready to go to the gym. There's something she wants more than sleep -- she wants to be a boxing champion and is willing to outwork everyone else to become one.

For many people, getting to the gym three times in a week would be considered a successful fitness week, but not for Army 1st Lt. Rory Santos, 486th Movement Control Team executive officer, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. Try three times each day.

Such is the life of a motivated 27-year-old female boxer with a military career and two kids. She's at the gym when it opens first thing in the morning for her cardio session. She does a strength and conditioning workout on her lunch break and is in a ring sparring as soon as she gets off work in the evening.

The daily grind has propelled her to the forefront of female boxers in Alaska. Her current record is 27-6 and she has never been knocked out.
"This is my life and my passion," Santos said. "I started when I was 15 years old. I found it motivated me and gave me discipline that I needed in my life. It has worked out pretty well so far."

Santos's foray into what is considered to be a male-dominated sport began during her childhood in Hawaii. The Hawaiian-Filipino-Chamorro fighter had a neighbor who participated in the 2000 Olympics.

"I would see him train every day. He saw I was interested and recommended I hit the gym."

After joining a local gym, her skill and determination caught the eye of her coach at the time.

"He saw potential in me and decided to see how far he could push me. That would form the foundation of hard work, dedication and discipline I would need to propel myself up in the ranks within the sport."

Shortly thereafter, Santos enlisted in the Army at 17.

"I joined the Army to put some discipline in my life. I was not the best student in high school. I grew up in Hawaii and wanted to get off the island. I needed to do something with my life."

Santos took a break from the sport after enlisting, mostly due to being stationed at a location where boxing was not an interest in the community. She used this time to channel her discipline and drive into education.

She earned a bachelor's degree through the University of Phoenix and a subsequent commission in the Army. In 2012, she stepped back into the ring, picking right back up where she left off.

Since joining the Army, she's come to know the meaning of the word discipline and her interest in boxing has only cemented it further, Santos said. Everything she does is like clockwork to her, both in her job and in the gym.

"The discipline allows me to focus as a leader," Santos said. "My Soldiers see I'm a hard worker and I manage my time well. "They don't complain when I give them orders. They want to work hard because they see me working hard."

Her current trainer, Jarid Symens, a prior service member and owner of Martial Art Alaska, said Santos's hard work is what sets her apart from her peers.

"She is amazing. She trains harder than anyone else and is always trying to improve. She has an unmatched, tireless drive," Symens said.

Santos has her sights set on one day competing for Team USA in the Olympics.

"She could turn pro right now, and quite frankly would destroy many of the professional female fighters, but she's aiming for something more important to her. She wants to represent her country and come home with gold. There wouldn't be a prouder moment for her."

Santos said fighting in the Olympics is the entire reason she boxes.

"It would mean everything," Santos said. "That is the ultimate achievement for me. As a Soldier I get to fight for and serve my country, and this is just one more way I can do that. My country means everything to me."

At work, Santos is in charge of 18 Soldiers. She manages supplies, resources and training events for her unit. With her unit looking to her for leadership to solve problems, she approaches those challenges the same way she approaches her opponents in the ring.

"I try to keep as calm as possible," Santos said. "I look at it as all the hard work I've put in at the gym and in my job. It's just me sparring like I've done countless times. This is just someone or something in the way of success. I try to take the emotion out of it."

While the cool, calm calculation is her go-to approach, Santos said sometimes she has to dig deep for special problems or opponents.

"You always want to stay calm, but it's OK to look for something special to motivate you. Personally, if I need that extra push, I'll imagine the person in front of me is trying to harm my family.

"I put their face on that emotion and feed off it. Obviously, it's all in good sport in the end, but it's ok to find something like that to fuel you when you need it."

Santos has had to overcome many opponents and challenges to get where she is today, not the least of which was garnering respect of her peers in the male-dominated sport.

She had to prove herself, Santos said. She's usually the only female at the gym who fights.

"Gender equality has come a long way, but I can still tell guys don't want to hit me," Santos said.

"But, I don't hold back. You better hit me. I'm going to hit you. For the most part, people respect that. Now, when I'm in the gym, I'm not 'Rory the female boxer,' I'm 'Rory the boxer.'"

Santos said her gender, role as a leader and known passion for fitness create a healthy competition and camaraderie in her unit.

"The guys know I can hang," Santos said. "I smoke them at PT. I can see an 'Oh, if lieutenant can do it, I can do it,' competitive spirit. It's fun."

The driven Soldier had words of advice for others who may be interested in the sport.

"Just try it out. Go to a gym and put on a pair of gloves. Do your best. It's just like anything else in life. If you enjoy it and want it bad enough, you can have it. You just have to be willing to work for it."

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