Boxing, politics another 1-2 punch for young boxer

DOWNEY - Featherweight Walter Sarnoi is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs 125 pounds, and has won six straight fights, two by knockout, since he turned pro two years ago. Along with four other pros, one of them a world champion, he trains mornings six days a week at the Los Nietos recreation center in Santa Fe Springs.In his free time he volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission downtown, at local churches, works at the children's hospital, with wounded veterans, and so on. Just this July he obtained an MBA degree from Azusa Pacific. A little more than a week ago, he joined up as a board member of Downey's 10-20 Club, where he had once been a client. There's a chance that this December, or probably in March, he'll declare his candidacy for the city council of Monterey Park where he was born and where he has resided all his life. Sarnoi, who likes to append 'School Boy' to his name, is clearly on a mission. He is only 24. To say that he is young is to say the obvious. To say his need to achieve is strong is undeniable.10-20 Club president Darrell Jackson, who Sarnoi acknowledges as a steadying influence in his life and a mentor in more ways than one, says their paths first crossed when Sarnoi, then in high school, was cited for violating curfew, nothing serious, and his case was referred to Jackson. The two hit it off well because of similar conflicted backgrounds. Even after their formal counseling sessions were over, Sarnoi sought Jackson's reassuring persona. Jackson's advice to the young man resonated, e.g., "You have to have self-discipline to move forward"; "Aim to go to college. Lack of a degree could be a drawback"; "Focus on your goals"; "Don't make the same mistakes I made in the past"; etc. The close rapport continues to this day. "Walter is like my adopted son," says Jackson. "From the beginning I thought I saw something special in him. So we kinda helped him along. Because of his promise, he was able to take advantage of the scholarships, small ones really, that the 10-20 Club offered students like him who needed encouragement and help. Even when he was attending Azusa Pacific, I would help him with such expenses as vehicle registration fees, buying some tires for his car, or otherwise give him some pocket money. All this came out of my own pocket." Sarnoi was an alternate with the Beijing U.S. Olympic boxing team, two months before he turned pro. He earlier obtained his B.S. in Finance from Northern Michigan University in 2007 on a boxing scholarship. As an amateur, he was ranked among the top six in his weight category in the U.S. Incorporated in 1995, the 10-20 Club, headed by its founder Jackson, offers an array of support services, including individual counseling/conflict resolution, family support and parenting group, anger management service, drug and alcohol diversion program, scholarships, and crisis intervention. It is an arm of Gangs Out of Downey. "I'm of course happy at the way things have turned out so far," Jackson says. And, without hesitation, he adds, "He's got character. He's a smart and solid kid. He has become a role model in his own right." Sarnoi's Thai parents separated when he was 7, and because his mother was "endlessly away at work" to raise him and an older brother, he was raised by a Mexican family. Because of this diverse background, he picked up several languages including English, Spanish and Thai. He is allegedly learning Mandarin. His coach, Danny Zamora, also trains a select number of pro boxers, including close friend, Shawn Estrada; current IBF world bantamweight champion, Colombian Yonnhy Perez; and No. 1 middleweight contender Librado Andrade. Sarnoi is, of course, one of the few boxers with a master's, not to mention a college, degree, and the way he was able to box while pursuing his studies is notable. His formula was homework past midnight and roadwork before sunup. He says his boxing role model is middleweight Bernard Hopkins for "the way he takes care of himself, for his clean lifestyle." He is on the cusp of meeting another balancing act challenge, this time combining boxing with the demanding world of politics. Sarnoi, having worked with the disadvantaged both here and while a member of a boxing entourage in South Africa, where he had occasion to feed the kids in the orphanage there, is of a mind to do his bit to improve conditions in several areas in Monterey Park, which he considers a safe city. He has talked before such groups ("when time permits") as the Boys and Girls Club of Monterey Park, and his first 10-20 Club meeting as a member of the board takes place next month, but right now he's concentrating on his next fight, scheduled for either late October or early November. In the meantime, he offers thanks to family, supporters and friends ("my positive team who have always believed in me and ready to help when I needed it") whom he identifies mostly by their first names: Isaac, Shawn, Danny, Howie, Apollo Ohno, and, of course, Darrell. He also says he welcomes hearing from his and contacts.

********** Published: September 30, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 24