Like most students at Turlock High School, along with colder weather, Christmas time brings with it thoughts of Winter Formal for sophomore Sandra Tovar. She plans to go with a group of friends, and although the event isn’t until January, she already knows what color dress she wants to wear: royal blue.
Still burning bright in her mind, however, alongside thoughts of fast-approaching high school excitement and dreams of a blue dress are the recent memories of another color – the bright red hue of the belt representing Tovar’s third national boxing title, which she earned last week in Salt Lake City, Utah at the 2017 USA Boxing Elite and Youth National Championships and Junior Open.
With her sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Tovar may be excited for her school’s next dance, but she isn’t your average teen.
“At school, people think I’m really nice,” said the 15-year-old boxer. “I mean, I’m nice and everything, but I’m not too nice to let people walk all over me.”
When Tovar isn’t practicing as a member of USA Boxing’s Youth National Team, she’s either catching up on homework or hanging out at one of Turlock’s many eateries with her friends – normal, high school stuff.
But, Tovar’s friends are very aware of the caliber of athlete they’ve chosen as their companion. Not only is she a nationally-ranked boxer, but Tovar is also active in THS Track and Cross Country.
“They all think it’s really cool,” said Tovar of her friends’ opinions on her young boxing career. “They mess around and make jokes, like saying that if someone messes with them they’ll just call me.
“Maybe I would help them out. It depends on the friend, but I’m not one to start things.”
Tovar’s sweet demeanor is challenged only by her ferocity in the boxing ring, with a threatening jab that has earned the boxer not only three national titles, but also recognition as the “Most Outstanding Boxer” for the Youth Female Division, securing her a spot on the USA Boxing National Team’s High Performance Squad and giving her the opportunity to attend training camps at the Olympic Training Center and represent Team USA at international competitions.
Tovar believes her success so far is paving the way to Tokyo.
“I’m looking to try for the Olympics in 2020,” said Tovar. “Winning these tournaments is helping me…since I’m winning, they already know me and what I can do.”
Tovar began boxing at just eight years old, following in the footsteps of her father. The sport is a family affair, she said, with her grandfather coaching her father to box, and her father passing on his knowledge to her.
Her first fight took place when she was just 10 years old, but it wasn’t until she won her first USA Boxing national title last year in the 110-pound Junior Division that Tovar realized she had the talent to go far, she said. From there, Tovar went on to win another national title – this time at the 2017 Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, where she again fought as a 110-pound Junior.
Tovar’s most recent title earned last week is arguably her most impressive, as it was her first fight in the older Youth Division, she went down into the 106-pound weight class and, for the first time, she had to make her way through three fights, rather than just one, against fellow nationally-ranked boxers – all of whom were older than her.
Though the odds were stacked against her, Tovar went into the tournament with confidence despite being the youngest in her bracket.
“It didn’t bother me, but I knew they probably underestimated me,” she said. “It made me push forward because I knew I could beat them and my age doesn’t matter.”
While she breezed through her first match, Tovar’s final two matches against Amy Salinas of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the semi-finals and Natalie Dove of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the championship were far more challenging.
Prior to Tovar snatching the title, Salinas was the reigning top-ranked youth woman at 106 pounds. Dove also held a national title – 101 pounds at the Junior Division.
“There were three of us who were all nationally-ranked and had to fight each other,” said Tovar. “They both had different styles, but after the first round you get a feel for how they fight. Depending on if they’re a boxer or a brawler, then you know what to do.”
By the time Tovar had defeated her first opponent, Estrellita Iturralde of Los Lunas, New Mexico, and also emerged victorious over Salinas, she was more than prepared for Dove, she said.
“I already knew it was going to be a tough fight, and I knew I was going to have to work for it,” said Tovar. “I’ve been working a lot and didn’t have any breaks during the year, so I put it in my head that I wasn’t going to let her take that away from me after all of the things I had sacrificed for it.”
Tovar’s headstrong attitude payed off, as the boxer defeated Dove for the 106-pound national title in the Youth Division.
The next time Tovar steps in the ring during a national tournament will be during the 2018 Junior Olympics in June, continuing her journey to Tokyo in 2020. For now, she’ll take a break from her life as a national-ranked boxer, watching Netflix, hanging out with her friends and catching up on some homework – just normal, high school stuff.