Online Exclusive: Esparza encourages setting goals, finding your island

On Thursday, March 27, US Olympian Marlen Esparza gave a motivational speech in DCC 330. Esparza won a medal in boxing the first time women’s boxing was part of the Olympic Games.

Russell Brown ’14, president of the Union Speakers Forum, introduced Esparza. She won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Esparza was also the youngest to ever win a US national title in boxing at 16, and is the only Hispanic of either gender who has ever made it onto the Olympic podium in boxing.

After introducing herself, Esparza explained how at first she wasn’t too sure about giving motivational speeches, because she didn’t feel like she had much to say. She has since realized that she has been through a lot and can talk about that. While Esparza mentioned her Olympic medal and other accomplishments, much of her speech focused on achieving goals.

Esparza said how she’d always heard that sacrifice, dedication, and hard work, helped one achieve goals. They were just words to her until one hot day in the boxing gym when she was 15 years old; Esparza and the other athletes were running laps. One guy, according to Esparza, hadn’t been running as fast as he could. When the athletes got to their last lap, this guy was encouraging to the others. Esparza said that this was the moment when she realized that everyone’s definitions of words was different; “to him, it was hard work.”

Esparza challenged the audience to think about a goal. She encouraged everyone to frame it not as a dream, but as a goal because “dreams are fictional.” Esparza said to think of that goal like an island; How you get there doesn’t matter, as long as every day you make yourself get closer to your island. She also challenged the audience to ask themselves, “do you feel you are worthy and deserving of your island?” She noted that many people say no, and, according to Esparza, those people are selling themselves short. Esparza also talked about doubt, saying that doubt was temporary for her. She said of people who doubt you, “they don’t know what they’re talking about because they’re not you” and that there will always be somebody who thinks you’re doing something wrong. “You just have to do you” was something else Esparza said to motivate the audience. She lastly asked everyone to think of their highlights, and if all their accomplishments were taken away, would they still be an awesome person?

After Esparza finished, questions from the audience were taken. Chuck Carletta ’14 asked about her toughest fight. Esparza explained that her fight at the World Championships when she was 17 was that one. It was her first time out of the country, and Esparza quickly learned that the US was not liked much outside of the country. She was behind the whole time, but ended up winning by one point. Another memorable fight was her first fight at the Olympics, when it really hit her that she was an Olympian. Graduate student Robyn Marquis asked about the photos of Esparza that appeared in /ESPN Magazine/. Esparza answered that at first she was very against getting those photos taken, especially since she would always cover up a great deal for boxing practices being the only girl in the gym.

Someone else from the audience asked what initially interested Esparza in boxing. Her answer was that her dad was always very interested in boxing and her brother boxed, though her dad wouldn’t let her try until she was 11 or 12. Gretchen Sileo ’14 asked whether boxing was just a job to Esparza, to which her answer was that it had been after the Olympics. Esparza didn’t feel like the bronze was good enough, so she kept going, but saw the sport as a job rather than a passion. At nationals the next year, she almost lost her second fight. After that, she realized that she needed to see boxing as more of a passion if she was to continue. Esparza trains at the US Olympic Training Center, practicing six to seven days a week.

Marlen Esparza was the second speaker for the Union Speakers Forum this year. Max Brooks spoke last fall. Brown said, “We typically do two big speakers a year, but this year we are also working with the McKinney Writing Contest to bring author Lydia Davis to campus later this month.” Brown also adds that the Union Speaker’s Forum is funded by the Student Activity Fee and is always looking for suggestions for possible speakers.