KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Physical fitness doesn’t come easy for everyone -- sometimes the drive to finish one more repetition or set a new personal best just doesn’t cut it. For 1st Lt. Christian Torres, having the spirit to stay mentally and physically strong when going through adversity is not just found in the gym, it’s a way of life.
From a young age, Torres’ affinity for gym activities turned out to be a bit more hands-on. A native of Puerto Rico, he started boxing at the age of 15 when a friend talked him into it.
“When I’d go to the gym, I’d put my mind into boxing and it helped me forget about everything else,” said Torres, a 81st Comptroller Squadron deputy project officer. “The economy in Puerto Rico wasn’t good and I was struggling with the dilemma of whether I’d be able to attend college and get a job after graduation.”
Boxing was initially just a way for him to escape life’s stress, but Torres had a knack for it and soon that led to opportunity.
After only a couple years, Torres became so proficient he had a chance to throw his hat into the ring of professional boxing
“I had a chance to make my debut in professional boxing but I had to turn it down,” Torres said. “I had to take care of my family. … At age 9 my brother was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and I had to shift my priorities; my mom couldn’t work because she was taking care of him so I had to make a change to help out.”
Watching his older peers graduate college and end up in dead-end jobs pushed Torres even harder. With the welfare of his family on the line, he knew he had to make a life-changing decision. Not just for him, but for his family. Torres gave up the possibility of a potentially lucrative career in boxing for college and the Air Force ROTC program.
“I didn’t want to fail my mom or brother,” Torres said. “I chose college and ROTC because I wanted to help my family.”
He pursued his degree in accounting at the University of Puerto Rico and it proved to be challenging, however, the ROTC program didn’t seem as difficult to him.
“I didn’t have any problems with ROTC because my father was very structured with me when I was young,” he said. “As for the physical training program, I was a boxer almost turning pro so that was a piece of cake.”
In addition to his academics, there was another bump along his road to becoming an U.S. Air Force officer -- the English language.
“I didn’t know English before attending college and joining ROTC,” he said. “If English isn’t your primary language, you have to take a test called the oral proficiency interview to show you are proficient in English before you can become an officer.”
With hard work and dedication, Torres was able to improve his skill in English thanks to his fellow ROTC cadets.
“In ROTC, there were cadets who were very smart but had never done consistent physical training before so I helped them out,” Torres said. “I traded my knowledge of physical fitness to the cadets and they in turn helped me with my English because at the time I was really bad at it.”
Torres gave up his chance in the ring for the reliability and benefits of the Air Force that better suited his family’s needs, but he didn’t give up boxing entirely. After passing the English OPI, graduating from the University of Puerto Rico and commissioning as a second lieutenant, Torres decided to share his love of boxing with others after arriving at his first duty station, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
“After I commissioned, I followed the coaching route,” he said. “I had clients ranging from 7 to 28 years old and one of my fighters even made it to a well-known televised event.”
Even with one of his fighters making it to such a high-profile fight, the possibility of training a professional fighter wasn’t his only drive.
“I enjoyed coaching the kids and people who wanted to learn how to box,” Torres said. “It felt rewarding to help kids who are underprivileged. Boxing is a low-cost sport, which opens up the possibilities for these kids to learn the fundamentals of boxing, release stress, build mental toughness and gain some friends along the way.”
Training local boxers wasn’t the only way Torres used what he learned through years of training. He is also the lead physical training leader for the 81st CPTS.
“Lt. Torres is an exceptional leader,” said Senior Airman Chigozie Nwachukwu, a 81st CPTS customer service technician. “He restructured the entire PT program to look at each person’s weakness then structures the PT to benefit everyone at the same time.”
It’s been a long time since Torres hung up the gloves. Since then, the fundamentals of fitness and staggering mental toughness he gained as a boxer still help him as a PT leader and Air Force officer.
“Being a past boxer helps me not only physically but also mentally,” Torres said. “In boxing, sometimes you are in the ring and you are getting beaten up and want to quit, but you have to keep fighting through that feeling and persevere through the adversity.”
When it comes to work, working out and caring for his family, Torres’ fighter’s mentality shines. He attributes his can-do attitude to his athletic training and the way his parents raised him.
Today, Torres continues to support his family in Puerto Rico and plans to one day bring them to the U.S.
“I’m not going to quit,” Torres said, affirming that no matter what, he’s in their corner.