Gabino Saenz is like many college graduates. Now that he’s earned his degree, he plans to pursue his career with 100 percent of his attention.
But how many college graduates have a career mapped out as a professional boxer with an eye on a world title as a goal?
Saenz, who was among the more than 800 graduates who participated at one of Cal State San Bernardino’s Dec. 7 commencement exercises, has been fighting professionally for the last 2-1/2 years. In 13 professional bouts in the featherweight and bantamweight classes, he’s won 11 with two draws.
On Dec. 7, the 24-year-old received his bachelor’s degree in business management, the first in his family to earn a degree.
“I don’t think it’s really sunken in for any of us,” Saenz said about his achievement, a day before he walked across the stage at CSUSB’s Coussoulis Arena to receive his degree. “I just came back from the fight two weeks ago (Nov. 16 in Laughlin, Nev.) and we were talking to my manager about the next fight date. There’s a lot going on, and I don’t think it’s sunken in. I was saying to myself it wasn’t that big of an accomplishment. But they (his parents) were saying it’s huge. ‘You’re the first one in the family to go to school, and now you’ve paved the way for your sisters.’”
And being the trailblazer for his younger siblings is important to him, he said. “I wanted to do it to show my sisters that college is for everyone, that you don’t have to be a straight-A student. It’s attainable, if you work hard.”
It was hard work that brought him to this point. Coming out of high school, he was offered a full scholarship to attend Northern Michigan University, which had a boxing program affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee. Saenz was one of the top amateurs at the time, and eventually qualified to fight in the 2008 Olympic Trials that determined who would represent the United States at the Beijing Summer Olympics. But illness two weeks before the trials forced him to drop out.
Instead, he decided to stay home, and stay with the same coach he’s had since he was 10, his father, Gabino Saenz Sr.
It was hard work that kept him in college. There were times that Saenz said he thought about leaving school – like his first term at College of the Desert – or at least taking a break from it, as he contemplated a year ago.
Either way, he had a lot going on in his life. At College of the Desert, it was making the adjustment from high school to college-level classes and the discipline involved to stay on top of things. And last year, it was just the demands that came with being a professional athlete.
In both instances, he decided to stick it out and stay in school, even with the demands on his time outside the classroom. At COD, it resulted in an associate’s degree in economics; at the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus, his business degree.
“You kind of slowly learn how to manage everything, the homework, the studying, everything,” Saenz said. “I kind of got used to it. It has been difficult at times. But it hasn’t been unattainable. It’s always been in reach.”
Asked now what he thinks is the most difficult part of his college career, and he’ll say paying his tuition fees every 10 weeks – he paid for his education out of his own pocket, with income also coming from his part-time job working at the Indio Teen Center coaching youth boxing.
Then he outlines a typical day: up at 5 or 6 a.m. to run; train with his father from 11 a.m. to about 1:30 p.m.; work at 2 p.m.; then class at 6 p.m. Studying came on weekends, and while traveling to and from fights.
“You’re so exhausted physically. It’s kind of hard sometimes to mentally be there to study and comprehend all the material,” Saenz said. “But you’ve got to get it done. It’s not going to get done if you don’t do it, and I can’t feel sorry for myself or anything. I just got to get it done.”
Reflecting a little deeper, Saenz said, “I don’t think college is as hard as everybody makes it out to be. If I’m a person that’s working a part-time job, and training as a professional athlete at the same time – and still a full-time student with a 3.5 overall GPA – I’m pretty sure that with the guys who are just focusing on school, there should be no excuse.”
But he’ll also add that the instructors at the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus and his classmates helped a lot. The instructors with their passion to share their information with their students made learning easier, and classmates who helped him with studying or providing a study guide if he missed class because of a fight or training.
Now the formal schooling is done, and he can turn his attention to his boxing career. Saenz said his ultimate goal is to fight for a world championship title someday. But that doesn’t mean the things he learned in college will be put on a shelf until his fighting days are over. For example, in his marketing classes, he learned ways to brand and manage his image. In his accounting classes, he’s learned how to wisely manage his earnings.
And even as he continues to fight, he said he plans on at least getting an internship or a part-time job to fill out his resume.
And all the while, he knows young eyes are watching him. In addition to his sisters, the youths he trains at the Indio Teen Center look to him.
“They see me as a professional athlete, and they want to turn professional and do this and that,” Saenz said. “But I make sure to tell them, ‘Make sure you guys go to school so you have something to fall back on.’ Now they see me as a professional athlete and still having the desire to get my degree, it kind of motivates them, too.”
For more information, contact the Cal State San Bernardino Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.