When Andrew Eikleberry stepped into the ring on Jan. 12, he felt a sense of calm.
He was still new to the sport, having taken up boxing just a little more than a year earlier, but he was ready to take his shot during the Western New England Golden Gloves Tournament in Hartford.
Eikleberry, a Connecticut Air National Guardsman who will begin his journey at basic training in April, emerged victorious and moved on to the quarterfinals.
Representing the University of Connecticut’s boxing team, Eikleberry, 18, admits that he is not a, “sports guy.”
“There was a lot of things that got me into boxing,” Eikleberry said in a recent phone interview. “I was never really into sports as a kid, but I started getting into fitness with my friends. I don’t remember when the exact moment happened, but something made me want to box.”
Eikleberry said that his parents weren’t thrilled with the idea, but once he got his driver’s license, he found himself driving to a local boxing academy in Hartford.
“The first couple sessions were intense cardio – so intense that I still struggle with them to this day,” Eikleberry said. “(My coaches) are very careful about who they let get into the ring. It took months of endurance training, hitting the bag and working on my form before I was ever allowed to step foot in the ring.”
Just getting into the ring was an accomplishment all on its own, according to Eikleberry, referring to it as a highlight of the year.
“At that point, you start sparring, and it just becomes part of the routine,” Eikleberry said.
For Eikleberry, the National Guard is a family affair. His dad, Lt. Col. Kevin Eikleberry, is an Instructor Pilot with the 103rd Airlift Wing and his stories helped make enlisting an easy choice.
“My dad being in the Guard was a big part of (my decision to join),” Eikleberry said. “He always talked so highly about the opportunities the Guard gave him.
“It just seemed like it would open a lot of doors for me.”
And it certainly will. When Eikleberry ships out this spring, he’ll be training towards certification in the rapidly growing field of cyber systems operations. His Air Guard job choice makes sense, considering he’s pursuing a degree in Computer Science at UConn.
For now, Eikleberry is focused on staying in shape and getting ready for basic training while drilling with the Student Flight Program, which is designed to help enlistees prepare for what lies ahead.
The toughness and character he showed in his quarterfinal bout speak volumes about the kind of person he is: determined and up to the challenge.
In the first round, matched up against a member of the United States Military Academy team competing out of West Point, N.Y., Eikleberry took a shot to the face that resulted in a pretty significant bloody nose. At the end of the round, though, his coaches were impressed by the positive strides he was making despite absorbing such a heavy punch.
Although he went out there for the second round, the referee called the fight. Eikleberry had broken his nose and the bleeding couldn’t be stopped on site.
“Looking back at the footage, it was a great fight,” Eikleberry said. “I wish I could have kept going, but knowing now that my nose was broken, it was definitely the safe call.”
Despite the disappointment of the loss, he was encouraged by his performance and strived to get right back to training once he was healed up.
“The people competing at the Golden Gloves work really hard to be there,” Eikleberry said. “I worked really hard to be there, and competing against people who have been working just as hard was great, because it means that I have been progressing.
“If you look at the video from my very first bout to my bouts in the Golden Gloves, it looks like a totally different person in the ring. I’m proud of that.”
As for his nose: the minor break has already healed. Within three weeks of the quarterfinals, it had healed well enough to begin sparring again.
Western New England Golden Gloves crowned its champions at the Gov. William A. O’Neill Armory in Hartford during the tournament finals on Feb. 2. It was the first year the event had been held in Connecticut, let alone at a Connecticut Military Department facility.