By: Jen Russon
Compared to other homes in the Westwood community of Tamarac, the Soto house has something extremely unique in their backyard: a boxing ring that was custom-built so that nine-year-old Ruben Soto can practice for the Youth Olympics.
His father, Luis, who supervises his training five days a week, said the boxing ring has made things easier for the family.
After participating in 18 fights in the past few years, the fourth grader is ranked eighth in the nation in U.S. boxing, and just took home the silver in his last Olympic tournament. This year, Ruben has also achieved the “Golden Gloves” title for the Florida state youth division.
“There isn’t a boxing gym close to us. We were driving to Davie constantly so Ruben could practice, but since my friend built a ring at our home, it’s easier,” said Soto.
He added that a family friend, Angel Nazario, built the ring about a year ago for a fraction of the cost a professional boxer might expect to pay. Nazario and other friends who cheer young Ruben on, said it won’t be long before the child becomes a professional himself.
Ruben’s father said an interest for the sport became apparent when, many years ago, a babysitter let the boy play with a punching bag. Ruben was three at the time.
“For some reason, he didn’t want me to find out that he really loved that – punching the bag,” Soto said, adding that he and his wife, Betsy and older daughter, Lisbeth all love to play and watch sports, and that this pastime was fostered in Ruben from an early age.
He seemed to play everything, proving his metal all over town.
While small at 60 pounds and standing four feet, three inches tall, Ruben is a gifted athlete and won the Tamarac Turkey Trot in his age group last year, however, at the age of eight, he decided to hone in on one sport.
“I like baseball and basketball, dad,” he told his father, “but I feel like playing on teams takes away from time when I could be boxing.”
Focusing on his true passion has paid off. The Soto family has traveled the country to watch Ruben compete in championships. Categorized as a pee wee competitor, he placed at the prep nationals and youth open in West Virginia last June.
Children participating in this sport at all, let alone in the Olympics, is nothing new. Boxing has been a featured sport in the Youth Olympics since 2010.
The Sotos are working up to the next one in 2022, and encouraging Ruben to compete in as many events as he can in the meantime.
Later this month, Ruben competes in the Sugar Bert Boxing Championship in Orlando, and at the end of this year, the Sotos make their way out west to Salt Lake City, to see him dodge and weave.
“Everywhere we go, we represent Tamarac,” said Luis. “He wears a badge that says Tamarac, which makes us all so proud. But it gets expensive.”
He and his wife, Betsy both remarked how grateful they are to extended family, who contribute for hotels and other expenses incurred in their pee wee boxer’s journey.
Betsy is general manager of a McDonald’s in Tamarac. Luis is a physical therapy and chiropractic technician at Multi-care Medical in Pembroke Pines. Their kids, Ruben and his older sister, Lisbeth are students at Renaissance Charter School and J.P. Taravella High School.
The family moved to Tamarac from Ft. Lauderdale about five years ago, but hail from Puerto Rico where some of Ruben’s biggest boxing idols are from, like Tito Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.
The whole family loves to watch boxing on TV, but to play it – to have real skin in the game – is to enjoy the sport as more than just another spectator. With Ruben in the ring, it’s their own flesh and blood out there. It makes them wince as much as clap.
Though the sport poses risk of injury, Ruben’s parents, especially his mother, Betsy, have come to appreciate the benefits of boxing. Like her husband, she agrees that their son is learning to better defend himself.
The Sotos said that Ruben goes sparring about once a week at gyms like the Sweat Box in Davie.
“His first fight, I cried and walked out. I couldn’t watch the whole thing,” said his mother. “I told my husband ‘that’s it’, but then a boxer said to me, ‘I’ve been in this sport for centuries, and everyone feels this way at first. Just let him [Ruben] do what he loves to do’. And that’s what I did, and now I’m his number one fan.”
She believes the sport is teaching Ruben self-discipline and work ethic – enough that he has continued to keep up his grades while staying committed to a rigorous practice schedule.
“He’s very dedicated,” his parents agreed, with Betsy adding, “he works so hard, it almost breaks my heart. He comes home, does his homework, eats, plays a little, and when his father comes home at 7:30, he trains him, in our home gym and in the ring out back.”
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.