Marlen Esparza Biography

Boxer, Athlete (1989–)
Boxer Marlen Esparza is the first American female to qualify in her sport at the Olympics. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, she won a bronze medal.


American boxer Marlen Esparza was born in Houston, Texas, in 1989. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, Esparza grew up in a family that adored boxing. She starting fighting as a teenager and by the age of 16 had become the youngest female fighter to win the National Championship. In 2012, fighting as a flyweight (112 pounds), Esparza became the first American female boxer to earn a position at the Olympics. At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, she won a bronze medal.

Early Life

The first American female boxer to ever qualify for the Olympics, Marlen Esparza was born on July 29, 1989 in Houston, Texas. Esparza's father, David, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was a teenager, introduced Marlen, one of four children, to the sport of boxing. Much of that came the way of television, which the Esparza family remained glued to whenever a bout featuring the boxer Julio Cesar Chavez appeared.

"[The children] thought boxing was called Chavez until they figured we were talking about a certain person," David Esparza once recalled.

As a child, Esparza's family was largely lower middle-class. Her father works as a supervisor at a local welding plant, while her mother, Carmen, is employed as an assistant at a local dentist office.

In school, Esparza was at times a difficult student. She earned poor grades and became known as a troublemaker, much of it sparked by the teasing she endured for being overweight. "I lost weight and turned really mean," Esparza told The Atlantic magazine in 2012. "I had a lot of problems with girls, especially."

Boxing turned things around her. Her introduction to the ring came at age 11, when she started babysitting her younger brother while he worked out at a local gym. Soon, Esparza was pleading with father and the gym's trainer, Rudy Silva, the gym's owner, to let her give the sport a shot. Initially rebuffed, Esparza eventually wore them down, with one caveat: She needed to turn things around at school. Esparza satisfied her end of the bargain. By her senior year, she was named class president and was earning straight A's. She eventually enrolled at Rice University.

Boxing Career

In the ring, Esparza proved to be even more adept. Following her parents' divorce, Esparza chose to stay with her father, a decision made in part by a desire to remain close to her gym.

Within just a few years of strapping on a pair of gloves for the first time, Esparza won the Houston Regional Golden Gloves championship. She went on to win the crown every year for the next seven years, and at the age of 16, became the youngest women boxer to capture the National Championship. She went on to win the crown six consecutive times, and captured the bronze at the 2006 world championships.

As her winning total climbed, so did her recognition. Today, she's earned not only endorsements from Nike and Coca-Cola, but is the first American amateur boxer to strike a deal with CoverGirl.

To prepare for the 2012 Summer Olympics, Esparza took a year off to bulk up her normally 106-pound frame to 112 pounds. The hard work paid off. At the 2012 Women's World Championships in China, Esparza made history when she defeated Vietnam's Luu Thi Duyen in the second round to clinch an Olympic position, the first American female boxer ever to do so (women's boxing became an Olympic sport in 2012).

"It's a big step, not really just for boxing, but for women in general," Esparza said, just before the start of the Games. "I'm so happy that the pressure is on me, versus someone else, and it's just an honor, first of all, to represent your country. It's an even bigger honor to be the first and that position and also being female."

At the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, held in London, Esparza won a bronze medal, losing in the semifinal bout against Chinese boxer Ren Cancan.

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