Seniesa Estrada is the Amateur National Champion in the 112-pound division. She visited StoryCorps with her father, Joe Estrada, in Montebello, Calif.
Amateur boxing champion Seniesa Estrada, 17, is about to turn pro. Her father, Joe, is a former gang member who gave up that life to become her coach. And she's a seasoned veteran: Her first day in the ring came as an 8-year-old.
Seniesa had been to a boxing match with her dad and her brother. And it took hold.
"I mean, I don't know too many 8-year-old girls that would look at a boxing fight and think it's fun. But for some reason, I did," Seniesa says.
"She said, 'Hey Dad, do girls box?' And I'm like, 'Uh, yes,' " Joe says. "A few minutes later she says, 'Can I box?' And I'm like, 'Sure baby, you can box.' 'All right, will you take me to the gym?' I say, 'Yeah.' "
A month or two went by — but Seniesa didn't forget her father's promise. And he eventually took her to a boxing gym to spar.
"I didn't know how hard it was," she says. "I just thought I was gonna go to a gym and get in the ring and fight, 'cause that's what I wanted to do."
"She went in the ring with this little boy," Joe said, "and got hit in the stomach really hard. She looked at the little kid like, 'I'm gonna get you,' and she just went right at him."
"I was just swinging," Seniesa says.
"No technique in her punches," Joe says. "She just whaled away, and it was like, 'Wow, I just saw that.' The coach said, 'Stop, stop.' They stopped the fight. The little boy was crying, and that's the moment where I said my little girl's a fighter. She was meant to do this."
Since those early days, Seniesa has won many titles, including a Women's Golden Gloves championship. She visited Ecuador with the U.S. team in January. Among her goals: the Olympics.
But knowing that his daughter had the talent and desire to become a boxer hasn't made it easier for Joe to watch her fight.
"It hasn't changed from the first time I saw you in the ring. It's kinda hard," he tells Seniesa. "The first time I watched you get hit, I really wanted to jump into that ring. You'll see me moving and trying to slip every punch that's being thrown at you. It's like if they're hitting me.
"It's hard, but it's just so amazing to watch you."
When Joe asks Seniesa how she feels when in the boxing ring, she says, "Before I'm fighting, I feel so many different emotions. It's crazy. But once I'm in the ring, I really don't feel anything. I mean, 'cause I'm so comfortable in there. It's what I'm meant to do, and I wanna keep fighting."
"Oh cool. That's good."
But Seniesa has some praise for dad, too.
"What I admire about you is how you changed over the years and just the person you've become," she says.
"I'm not who I used to be, you know," Joe says. "I totally completely stopped doing all the drugs and everything that I used to do before. Because at that split second when you made that decision, it's over.
"I mean, I'm gonna stand right behind her and just be a good father to her and I love you with all of my heart, baby. I'm proud of you now, and I'll always be. Love you."
Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo. This interview is part of StoryCorps Historias, recording the voices of Latinos.