Laredo’s first Olympian is going for gold in Paris this summer

Jennifer Lozano, a 21-year-old boxing athlete, will make her Olympic debut this July in Paris.

By Elisabeth JimenezMarch 25, 2024 3:11 pm, ,

When Jennifer Lozano sees red —  from the flushed cheeks of her opponent or pools of crimson blood falling down their face — she makes her move.

“It’s like, ‘Okay, now I’m really going to go for the kill. Now I’m really going to try and hurt you,'” the boxer said.

It’s this mindset that has led Lozano to become the first Olympian from Laredo in any sport. Lozano earned her ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics after winning silver at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago in the 50 kg weight class.

“Being the first one to ever go to the Olympics and just simply qualify is crazy, because I know that I’m making a difference. I know I’m giving everybody in the South Side hope,” she said. “I know whoever hears my story and looks at what I’ve done and accomplished is a hope for them, whether they’re from Laredo, Mexico, or somewhere across the world.”

The Pan American Games stood in a line of her previous wins, including a bronze medal at the 2023 GeeBee International Tournament, gold at the 2022 USA Boxing Elite Championship and another bronze medal at the 2022 USA Boxing International Invitational.

But her start in boxing didn’t begin with roaring praise from her boxing mates or consistent medals to take home. Being the only female boxer at her gym back home in Laredo, she found herself facing opposition from the male boxers.

“In the beginning it was hard because there were bigger, heavier guys and they tried bullying me around,” Lozano said. “It was hard.”

The opposition she faced in the ring paralleled the bullying she faced at school that led her to boxing in the first place.

“Every day after school, I would get into fights,” she said. “Older kids would look for me and trip me. They’d start punching me, kicking me and telling me things.”

Then one day, Lozano decided it was enough. Without telling her mom the real reason why, Lozano said she wanted to start defending herself. Soon after, Lozano found herself at a boxing gym on Laredo’s south side.

“I joined and I just loved it. I fell in love with the simple fact that I knew how to defend myself,” she said. “I didn’t know how to slip, roll, nothing. The fact that I knew what a jab and a two and a hook were, that was enough for me.”

After facing initial opposition from the male boxers, the tides started to turn when she learned from her boxing lessons. After growing her skills in the sport, Lozano found herself out of sparring partners.

“Boys didn’t want to spar me no more because they’ve got black eyes, bloody noses and they don’t want to get beaten by me in front of their buddies or their families,” she said.

After her success in the practice ring, her coach invited Lozano to join the competitive boxing team, igniting the journey that would lead her to the Olympics.

But in 2019, after the tragic death of her grandmother, who helped raise her, Lozano contemplated quitting the sport. And it led her to “the stage of rock bottom.”

Jennifer Lozano and her grandmother at a birthday celebration. Courtesy of Jennifer Lozano.

After her grandmother’s death, Lozano found herself losing friends and fighting classmates. Despite the drastic changes in her life, one thing stayed consistent: stepping foot in the ring.

“I still kept going to the gym, mostly because I needed to take out my anger,” she said.

But consistently going to the gym proved difficult. Even though she still kept up with the sport, an old adage in Laredo crept into her mind, making her question her future in boxing.

“There’s a saying that sticks in the south side of Laredo: ‘If you’re born in Laredo, you die in Laredo,'” she said. “So I just kept telling myself that maybe this is my life now.”

Things started to change after she faced another loss, this time in boxing – to Alyssa Mendoza, another 2024 Olympic hopeful. But Lozano said the loss gave her a sense of relief.

“The big weight on my shoulder, on my back, on my head, anything on my body just left. I felt like I could breathe,” she said. “It hurt to lose, but I ended up realizing what I was doing wrong with my life was wrong.”

The moment of clarity came with the resurgence of a nickname from childhood. Lozano’s grandmother had called her “la Traviesa” – “the Troublemaker” – a name that came from Lozano’s habit of messing around with her siblings and even her grandmother. But it’s a name she wears with pride.

“That’s a part that stays with me from her,” she said. “I represent it in the way she would have wanted me to, which is to become as much of a troublemaker as I can in that ring with my opponent.”

Now, five years after her grandmother’s death, La Traviesa is going for gold. Lozano hopes to bring the rest of her family along to Paris and started a GoFundMe to fundraise for travel expenses.

“Seeing my mom from those bleachers when she went to the Pan American Games, being able to hug her after my fight, to point at her as I qualified, to kiss her right after and cry and give her that golden ticket — that meant everything to me,” Lozano said. “I want that feeling again.”

Whether in Paris or Laredo, Lozano’s making out her wins to the troublemakers, Laredo residents and everyone on the path to winning their own gold.

“No matter where you come from, what story you got or who you are, as long as you got heart, that mindset, that hunger — you’re going to get to where you want to be,” she said. “No matter the obstacles that you may go through, it’s possible.”

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