Most people who don’t run look at cross country with a cocked eye. It doesn’t seem like fun. You would have to be crazy to do it, just running for three-plus miles. There is no game in which running is simply a byproduct. It is just a grueling 5K race, running for running’s sake. It is a brutal test of will that some might call torture. But for Wichita North senior Nico Hernandez, cross country is just one part of the training for the real test of will, fisticuffs.
The sport of boxing has been good to Hernandez, taking him to an elite status in not only America, but the world. In his first year of eligibility, Hernandez won a Golden Gloves national title at 108 pounds with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Tyrone Arzeno in May.
“I always told my dad when I was little, once I hit 17 (years old) I’m eligible to get it,” said Hernandez. “I told him I would win it. When I turned 17, I fought in it, fought my up there and won. It is always something I have wanted since I was little. It is a lot of hard work, and I’m glad I put the time in. I knew I could do it, but it was a lot of work.”
When Hernandez got in the ring with Arzeno for a Golden Gloves national title, the work put in made him look as much at home in the title fight as a sparring session back on North Market in Wichita. As he always seems to do with ease, Hernandez worked behind his jab to close the distance, threw heavy-handed combinations on the inside, and used head movement and footwork to keep the opponent punching air on his way back out. Arzeno was left scrambling to react to Hernandez’ dictation of the bout, earning the North Redskin a unanimous decision for one of the most coveted belts in amateur boxing.
In the moments leading up to a fight, it can be a challenge to keep your focus. There is a job to be done, but the mind wants to race as the nerves start to pile up. It is a fist fight you are walking into, not a game. Even for someone with Hernandez’ experience on a national, and world stage, keeping it together going into a fight is not a joke.
“I just listen to music,” said Hernandez. “I just get in my zone before I get in the ring. I get in there and get on my knees and pray to God about what needs to get done. I’m always nervous when I get in the ring. I’m always nervous when I get in there, but once I get in there, I get comfortable.”
In the world of amateur boxing, a Golden Gloves title is the pinnacle of the sport. Well, it’s almost the pinnacle. By winning a Golden Gloves belt, Hernandez is now eligible for the U.S.A. Olympic trials. Win that tournament and it’s off to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, a dream reasonably within reach.
But before Hernandez can fight in the Olympic trials and possibly chase a gold medal, there is another title he has his eyes on: the 6A state cross country title this fall. After a second place finish last year, Wichita North returns its, “Fab Four,” with Hernandez, J’Quon Williams, Tristyn Villa, and Jeremy Brittain. These four seniors are all coming off state finishes in the top half of the field last year, with Williams finishing sixth, and have the Redskins thinking championship.
Whether the sport is cross country or boxing, there is one big requirement for both. Hernandez has it in droves.
“It takes a lot of heart,” said Hernandez. “It takes a lot of heart to finish. Because once your conditioning runs out, that’s all it’s based on, is your heart. Whenever you feel like you can’t, you’ve got to tell yourself that you can, and just keep going at it.”