As kids we all have dreams of becoming something spectacular one day in the future. Some kids want to become a farmer, or policeman, while others want to be a fireman or astronaut. For Chester Ruiz it was clear: he wanted to become a professional boxer. As the windy road of life so happens, often we do not get what we want; rather we get what we need. This life lesson, our medicine, is not one that comes too easily. But for those who embrace their soul’s path, the inner quest of the heart, the result is happiness.
The journey of the heart is not one chosen easily by the majority. They are susceptible to finding their way down a path of boundless surprises when life does not go as expected. Once befallen, it is easier to stay down in the dirt than fight your way back to your feet, finding new meaning and purpose. It is not the successes that define us in life; it is the struggles and obstacles that we had to overcome in the process. To each person the process takes on its own relative meaning. Chester Ruiz is no exception.
At fifty-two years of age, Chester has every reason to be sour on life. Growing up in Loma de Mico, a poor barrio of Grenada, Nicaragua, with dirt floors and no running water, with little chance of success being handed to him, he had to fight his way to where he currently is in life. In a house with eight males and two females, impoverished by the conditions of the life of his family, every extra bread crumb or piece of rice was fought over. Little did he know what his upbringing would mean for his future.
As a child, Chester always had a love of boxing. Henry, his older brother, was a boxer as long as he could remember. Henry went on to become a professional boxer, achieving 8thin world ranking (accruing a Pro-Champ of Latin America along the way), but by the time Chester got serious about the sport at age thirteen, his brother had already retired. Henry, a teacher of children by profession, went on to create an amateur boxing program for poor kids in the neighborhood. Henry was a huge inspiration on Chester.
In his first fight at age thirteen he was knocked out cold. He went on to win his next four fights. It was clear in his mind: he wanted to be World Champion. But did Chester have what it takes to get there? He eventually went on to fight his way to six national tournaments. Five of the six he won, taking home four bronze and one silver medal. After one fight with Camilo Ortega in Managua in which he won a gold medal he was forced to join the Nicaraguan Army. But this was good news for his boxing future.
All the best boxers were in the Army. He fought with Rosendo Alvaraez who went on to become World Champion. By all means, Chester was well on his way to living out his dream. We have our agenda in life but life has its own; the latter plan always getting its way. All roads lead to the same destination, however. On a trip home to visit family Chester was involved in a bad accident. He fell from a moving truck onto his elbow, resulting in the end of his boxing dreams of a world title. He retired at age twenty.
Not much time passed before Chester was back in the ring, this time in the capacity of his elder brother Henry: teaching children in the barrio. He started his coaching at the La Iguana Verde School of Boxing, a well-known and respected program in Nicaragua. At this school he quickly found himself in the presence of hungry boxers who wanted to become the best. He trained Victor Mayorga, who went on to become World Champion. Sadly though, Victor never returned much to the community in the way of gratitude.
Chester was married at age twenty-two. His wife, Melania, was twenty-four years old. Soon they would start a family. Little did he know that is life was about to experience more twists and turns, taking away all that he loved, including his family. His brothers were all gifted musicians and they spent time together singing and playing music. They thought he was good, that he had what it takes to succeed in such a highly competitive field. One brother encouraged him to take up music, to become a singer.
His up-and-coming band, Combo 76, found almost immediate success with the public. They were often invited to national festivals, sometimes winning awards for popularity. They once sang at Centro Recreativo, with seating for 1000 persons. Eventually their fame and popularity catapulted them onto a national TV program in 1992. At this point Chester was playing the part of the successful singer during the day but was an abusive drinker in the night. It was starting to affect how he sang and lived.
It is only a matter of time before our shadow side rears its ugly head. Chester’s reality was getting worse by the day. It was common for him to have all day and night drinking binges. It was not uncommon for Chester to wake up in the street, fully clothed, bruised and battered, at sunrise, after a long night’s bender. After our truth is revealed we have a choice: we can either choose to stop or continue on. Chester continued down the path of heavy drinking, effectively killing his music career by age thirty-five.
Chester was now at rock bottom in life. He had relentlessly pursued two huge opportunities to get himself and his family out of the ghetto in order to create a normal life for them – both had failed. And, even more so, on a deep inmost level, Chester felt like a let-down to himself and his family, a real failure at life. To add salt to the wound, two years earlier when his daughter with Down syndrome was born, he made a promise to God that he would stop drinking. But he did not. And now his life was in shambles.
No more were his nights filled with fall-down drinking escapades, Chester, now determined to beat his demon and get his life back in order, was on a mission. One night his bigger brother took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; since then his life has been changed for the better. On September 15th, 2009, he took his last drink, thus altering his ensuing path in life. He continued singing on weekends in order to keep his love and passion for music and people alive. He decided to start teaching boxing again.
Now a part of the Alexis Aguello boxing program, he was back in the streets teaching kids from his heart anew. Chester knew that this was what made him happy in life, that his true calling is helping children become a part of something bigger than them, to find a way out of the daily trouble on the streets and hopefully one day poverty. The kids find tremendous motivation and resolve by being involved in a sport of such agile skill and rugged determination, where training and hard work pay results – same as life.
The kids in his program come from severe poverty, and as with Chester, all growing up without running water and electricity. They all arrive already with checkered backgrounds; were if not for the program they would end up roaming the streets inevitably getting into trouble or worse, most likely killed. They come from the neighborhoods called “Red Areas” – streets the average Nicaraguan would not dare walk down. These barrios are controlled by drug gangs; with drugs being supplied openly by the police.
In life one never knows where they will meet a Chester. We met because each morning a bike would arrive at my housing unit in Granada – it was Chester coming to work as a security guard. Over time we became friends, eventually leading me to know about his family, life and background. His is a story not unlike any other human who has a dream as a child, or as an adult. He went after his dreams twice in life and both ended in utter failure. But Chester is a boxer, one who would not be counted out of the fight.
Life does not always go as we wish; never tie a bow around it. You can never know if the gift will ever arrive – so lose your expectations. The universe always finds a way send us messages as to our true purpose in life. The further we push away from our sole objective here on earth the harder the universe pushes back. When they are not heeded the universe increases the frequency and severity of the message(s). Until the message is clearly understood, it will keep persisting in innumerable forms.
Like boxers, we all get knocked down in life from time to time. There is a guarantee at some time in your life you will face such a juncture. There is no shame in getting knocked down in life but there is shame in deciding not to get back up again. Chester was knocked more times than any boxer would care to openly admit, but each time it happened he quickly found the seed of positivity, sowing renewed hope for his family’s future – placing him on a new course in life, a path to profound inner contentedness, happiness.
It was in being stubbornly human, striving for his dreams of being a boxer and then a professional singer, having lost each because of excessive abuse of alcohol, and after endless barriers and battles, bringing him to his lowest point psychologically, that allowed Chester to find his true path in life: helping children. One can never know greatness if one never tries. But one also cannot ever taste or know inner happiness if one does not look deep within, choosing the intense quest of darkness in order to find light.
It was this dark and difficult path, the road less traveled, finally beating his fight with alcohol (his hardest opponent) – keeping his promise to his daughter and family, and finding his way back to coaching boxing to children afresh, whilst over a long period of time losing two dreams due to severe addiction, that led Chester to do the extreme grueling inner-work of self, his soul, life, that is required to make happiness an everyday part of one’s life. All the answers to your questions lie within the ring of life – ding, ding!
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