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Sparring with the Holy Spirit

Olympic hopeful Hector Colon shares his journey from boxer to faith in Christ. Hector was born in Milwaukee, a first-generation Puerto Rican American. He was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic church and regularly attended Sunday Mass even when his mother stopped attending when he was nine. He writes:

Adam was my age at school, and he took an unpleasant interest in me. One of his favorite pastimes was following me around and taunting me, drawing on a vast arsenal of racial slurs he had evidently picked up from his father.

One day I came home crying with a bloody nose, and my father demanded to know what had happened. With a stony expression, he said, “The next time you see Adam, you will defend yourself. Then he’ll leave you alone.”

The very next day, my father marched me into the boxing gym. I was shown some basic combinations by my future coach and mentor, Israel “Shorty” Acosta. He turned to my father and said with conviction, “Héctor is a natural. He will become a champion.”

Shorty’s prediction was correct, and as a successful young boxer, I began traveling around the world representing the US national boxing team. But boxing slowly distanced me from church and my faith. And it entangled me in some unhealthy relationships. With my mother’s permission, he brought me into his own home to ensure I wouldn’t be surrounded by negative influences.

Thankfully, God reentered my life when I attended a Bible study in Colorado Springs. I found meaning and purpose through studying Scripture and enjoying fellowship with other men. When I got back home, I wanted to take my faith more seriously, but I was easily distracted.

During this time of contemplation, I began turning my gaze toward the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. As a teenager, I was a seven-time US national champion, which made me the favored welterweight to represent my country. I was beyond excited. The Olympic trials pitted me against Jesse Briseno. When I lost, I was devastated—my dreams of Olympic glory had vanished.

I felt lost and rudderless, wondering what to do with my life. That’s when I started attending church and Bible studies again, and on December 27, 1992, I purchased my very first Bible. That same day, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

As I began immersing myself in the life of the church, I continued to box. Eight months later, I stepped back into the ring with Briseno. This time I knocked him out in fewer than two minutes. The fight was televised, and the publicity landed Shorty and me on the cover of USA Boxing’s magazine, as well as the inside cover of Sports Illustrated. With all this attention, I once again considered turning professional.

At the same time, I was feeling conflicted. I found myself torn by a passage from 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (6:19–20). I pictured myself in the ring hurting someone who was a temple of the Holy Spirit. I pictured endangering my own body and brain in a way that God had not intended. Was boxing compatible with the words of Scripture?

After a year of prayer and discernment, I left boxing behind. Walking away was the hardest decision I had ever made. I knew my choice let many people down, and I was devastated by the pain I caused Shorty. At the same time, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and peace.

Leaving the ring also allowed me to form a family, pursue God with renewed vigor, and explore career opportunities better aligned with my faith. I’ll always be thankful to boxing for providing character-shaping structure and discipline when I needed it most. But only by giving myself to Christ did I discover a calling worthy of my utmost devotion.

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