Boxer Jennifer Lozano driven to inspire Latinas, honor her grandmother at Olympics


Jennifer Lozano carries her nickname “La Traviesa” — “The Mischievous Woman” in English — with pride. Not only does it refer to her aggressive and brave boxing style, but also to what her grandmother called her because of the pranks she used to play when she was a child.

She stuck with the nickname as she began her boxing career as a tribute to her late grandmother and will use it as a member of the U.S. Olympic boxing team this summer in Paris.

“After she passed away, I carried the nickname with a lot of pride, and a lot of honor, because she gave it to me,” Lozano said of her grandmother, Virginia Sanchez Cuevas.

The 21-year-old fighter earned her ticket to Paris 2024 in October by winning the silver medal at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, in the 50-kilogram — or 110-pound — weight class. Lozano, who grew up in Laredo, Texas, is the first female Olympic fighter in any sport from her hometown, which sits near the border with Mexico. She hopes her Olympic qualification will give hope to many people in Laredo and Mexico that big things can be accomplished by people from small places.

At the end of her Pan American semifinal bout against Canada’s McKenzie Wright, Lozano jumped and cried, knowing she had overcome many of the obstacles and cultural stereotypes she had encountered during her burgeoning boxing career. The win was a reward for this little girl who followed her dreams, even though many called her crazy for becoming a boxer. After hearing the final bell in her fight against Wright, Lozano immediately raised her hand, confident that she had qualified for the Olympics, and pointed to the sky in tribute to her grandmother, who died in 2017.

“It was such a great emotion that to this day I can’t describe. I just thought about the great change it was going to be, not only in the city, but for the future generations of boys and girls who are from Laredo, who have that thought, that mentality that if you are born in Laredo, you die in Laredo,” said Lozano, whose first started boxing to lose weight and little by little realized that she could stand out in tournaments. She tried other sports, such as soccer, basketball and track and field, but nothing excited her as much as boxing.

Under the guidance of Michelle and Eddie Vela, owners and coaches of Boxing Pride gym in Laredo, Lozano has become a rising star in U.S. boxing.

From 2015 to 2019, she was champion of the National Junior Olympics and the National Golden Gloves. She also won the 50 kg at the 2023 Gee Bee International Tournament and gold at the 2022 USA Boxing Elite National Championship and the 2022 USA Boxing International Invitational.

“It’s been a very long road,” said Vela, her coach since age 11, when asked about qualifying for the Olympics. “It was something we worked so hard for, so many years. It gives me chills just thinking about it. It was incredible to see that we finally made it.”

The Boxing Pride gym taught Lozano the basics of pugilism and when she began defeating 16- and 17-year-olds when she was just 11, her trainer realized that “La Traviesa” could do great things. The gym became her home. She would stay for hours to train with Vela, forming a special relationship.

“We only have to give each other one look to know, ‘OK, I know what you’re telling me, I know what you’re thinking.’ We connect so well that a lot of people don’t believe it. And we just always told each other everything. And I trust him a lot,” the left-handed boxer said.

Lozano, the daughter of Rubén Lozano and Yadira Rodríguez, natives of Tamaulipas, Mexico, earned her associate degree in 2021 from LBJ High School’s innovative biotechnology and science academy amid her boxing training.

The hardest blow life dealt Lozano was at the age of 17, when she found her grandmother dead in her home in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico — something that put her in “a hole she felt she could never get out of.”

Her grandmother died in a shooting in her neighborhood, according to the boxer. Members of organized crime were searching for someone and shot at her grandmother’s house, fatally wounding her. Lozano and her mother had not heard from her grandmother for days, so they decided to visit her in Nuevo Laredo. Upon arriving at the house, Lozano broke down a door and found her grandmother’s lifeless body.

“I saw her body there on the floor and she was not in good condition,” Lozano said. “… I don’t know, me and my mom never talked about it, but yes, that’s how it happened.”

After her grandmother’s death, Lozano said she felt a lot of resentment, depression and anxiety. She could not concentrate in school and was angry in the gym.

“I was so angry that I wanted to keep fighting. Out of four rounds we had to go, we ended up going eight or 12 rounds nonstop,” Lozano said. “I had a lot of bitterness, I wasn’t focused or anything and it was very hard to get out of that hole I was in. It was very dark.”

A fight ultimately changed her focus.

In 2019, Lozano lost to Alyssa Mendoza at the USA Women’s Youth National Championships. One punch in particular shook her up.

“I think it was a jab from her opponent that hurt her nose,” Vela said, recalling the painful but important loss. “That’s when she realized that she had to come back, keep working and that was necessary to be in the place we are now.”

“That’s when I started to see things as they are and I got my act together,” said Lozano, who realized after that loss that she couldn’t be depressed.

Lozano focused on her mental health and thought she had to make a change. She thought of all the people who have gone through difficult times in her city. Most of all, she remembered the words of encouragement her grandmother would give her.

“She would tell me that I was going to do great things. That she loved me very much and that I should never forget her,” said Lozano, who has tattooed in her mind the days when she used to watch Jackie Nava’s fights with her grandmother and the flautas she made for her to eat.

“She told me: ‘You’ll see, mija, you’ll see that you’re going to be great. You keep working hard and working hard and it’s all worth it.’ ”

After her 2019 loss, Lozano notched 11 straight wins in amateur boxing.

“What I learned is that you have to be thankful for who you have in front of you because you never, literally, never know if that’s going to be the last time you see that person,” she said.

USA Boxing also helped her recover mentally, just as it did with Jajaira Gonzalez, a Southern California boxer who also struggled with her mental health before qualifying for Paris 2024.

“Lozano is fantastic. She’s had a difficult history as a child and the things that come with that. She’s been focused, and she’s had good fights,” said USA Boxing’s head coach, Billy Walsh. “She’s stood her ground, she hasn’t let feelings get the best of her. She’s very strong and has fought in the face of the toughest pressure, in the face of the biggest stress.”

Lozano has helped other teammates, especially fellow Olympian Gonzalez, to be mentally strong.

“She’s like my little sister. She pushes me and so like me just like her,” Gonzalez said. “She has a very strong mentality. I would like to be just as strong as her.”

With her Olympic participation, Lozano said she wants to change the stigma that exists for people from South Laredo.

“We have a bad saying that what is from Laredo never progresses. That if you are born in Laredo you die in Laredo,” said Lozano, who also is inspired by her sister Jessica, who moved to San Antonio to continue her education.

“I’m here to not only inspire and motivate, but equally to make a big change, not only in my city, but for all Hispanas, Latinas, Mexicans and all of Latin America. I want to be a global inspiration.”

This article was first published in Spanish via L.A. Times en Español.



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