Like a great knockout punch, Chantel Navarro never saw the ‘no’ coming.
Her father would tell fascinating stories about his passion for boxing–a sport that opened up opportunities for him, his brothers, and many other relatives. In fact, her father Ignacio, uncle Carlos, and uncle Jose were all professionals. Her uncle Jose even competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Chantel figured her father would be thrilled when she asked to start boxing at the age of 11. "But he shut me down right away," Chantel recalls. "He said, 'I don't want you to have anything to do with that sport.' " Chantel, as kids often do, moved to Plan B: Ask her mom. "But my mom did not want me to do it either," Chantel adds.
So she stuck with soccer.
Ignacio, though, wants to make something very clear: He didn't say no because Chantel is a girl.
"Boxing is a very hard sport," he says. "Other sports are physical, but in boxing, people are trying to hit you in the face and trying to hurt you. I gave up three-quarters of my life to boxing and it was very hard."
Ultimately, though, Ignacio relented, and Chantel has flourished. She's already becoming a five-time junior national champion. On her private Instagram account, she writes under her name: "Follow my timeline to becoming a 2024 Olympic Gold Medalist."
Representing family and community
In September, LA28, the organizing committee of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic and Paralympic Games, announced a collection of athletes, artists, and advocates to showcase different A’s in the LA28 ever-changing (alternatives: changing or dynamic) emblem. The list includes notables such as Alex Morgan, Allyson Felix, Gabby Douglas, Reese Witherspoon, and many more.
Chantel, now 15, is among them, and her design was to honor her Mexican heritage.
"I love where I come from, and I am proud of where I come from," she says. "My grandparents on my dad’s side moved to California for a better life for our family. Where I come from, people are very hard-working and lovable and friendly."
Ignacio and his family grew up humbly in South-Central Los Angeles. His older brother Carlos would take him and Jose to a boxing gym on 108th and Broadway.
"I started going when I was 6, and he would train us for a little bit and bribe us to get into the ring with other kids," Ignacio says. "We would do fairly well."
Their neighborhood was predominantly African American, so Ignacio and his family stood out. They mostly got along with others, but people quickly learned not to mess with the Navarros. A boxing coach noticed their talent and asked their father if he could train them. They all shined in the sport.
"We saw boxing as our vehicle that would get us out of there," Ignacio says.
Ignacio turned pro in 1996, and he had a strong start to his career. But he retired in 1998 when his record was 7-0-1 with three knockouts.
"I wasn’t as dedicated as my brothers were. I should have been 8-0 with eight knockouts," Ignacio says. "But I broke the fourth knuckle on my left hand in the first round of a match, and I won a unanimous decision. But I did a lot of damage to my hand, and I didn’t recover properly."
He says it took two years to fully recover, but his weight had ballooned up, and he couldn't get close to his fighting weight of 138 pounds anymore.
Chantel has one older brother and four sisters. Her brother wasn't interested in sports, gravitating to computers and entertainment. After initially being denied a chance to box, Chantel grew more and more frustrated with her parents. When she was being picked up from soccer, Chantel would give her mother the silent treatment on the ride home.
"Why can't I do what I want and try?" Chantel asked her mother.
Eventually, her mother gave in.
"Take her and let her see what it's like," Chantel's mother told her father. "Hopefully, she gets a taste for it and wouldn't want to do it anymore."
Right away, though, Chantel displayed immense potential.
"She would just do certain movements on her own, and I was like, ‘Where did she see that?' The way she turned and angled and punched upstairs and punched to the body," Ignacio says. "She did things naturally, and I would trip out."
She won her first tournament. About five months in, Ignacio had an idea. He decided to have Chantel train with her cousin Steven. A far more experienced boxer, Steven peppered her with punches and quickly avoided her attempts.
Immediately after, Steven gave her some encouragement and some things to work on.
Steven Navarro is a 10-time national champion.
On the drive home, Chantel teared up because of her frustration around the sparring session. "I was like, 'Are we done with boxing and going back to soccer?' " Ignacio recalls thinking. "I asked her if she was scared, and she said no."
Instead, Chantel broke down what she learned and what she planned to do next time.
"That’s when it hit me, ‘She’s going to pursue it, and she has what it takes,' " Ignacio says. "She has the heart."
Ignacio is Chantel's trainer and coach. But he makes clear that he and Chantel are clear about expectations around their relationships.
"When I'm training," Chantel says, "my dad's dad mode is off. He is my trainer. Dad isn't there, and my trainer knows that I have what it takes and so he pushes me.
"I'm very grateful. He can get the best out of you."
On the Grind
Ignacio didn't serve in the military, but he says that his coaching philosophy embraces the same mindset. He's strict and demanding, making sure Chantel knows that he is not going to train her with "hugs and kisses."
He focuses on the things she can improve, rarely mentioning the positives.
"Why would I give you kudos when you do good?" he asks. "We need to work on the things that need improving."
If Chantel loses a match, though, the father always takes precedence over the coach."The dad is right there," Ignacio says. "Coach comes back into the gym when we’re back to correct and improve."
Ignacio remembers the first national tournament, where thousands of athletes were competing. They had modest expectations, but Chantel won the tournament.
"From there, her motivation and love for the sport continued to grow and grow, and she’s lost to some of the best girls in the country, and she’s also beating some of the best girls in the country," Ignacio says. "It’s still a learning process. But she hasn’t peaked, which is a good thing."
He admits that she has far more talent in the sport than he did. But what he admires most about his daughter is her natural grit. Ignacio also hopes that his setbacks and mistakes were not in vain, that Chantel will avoid them.
"Any chance I had to slack off, I did," he says. "I did beat some of the best in the country, but I wasn't as consistent."
Chantel says one of the most encouraging moments was when Nike featured her in a commercial.
"I was like, ‘Wow, Nike wants to do something with me!" she says.
Chantel tries to avoid the distractions, continuing — even during COVID — to train and work on her craft, mostly in the family's garage.
She knows younger kids are looking up to her, and she wants them to know this message:
" 'Go chase your dreams! Nothing can stop you,'" Chantel says. " 'Just know that you have people behind you and supporting you. If you need help, just ask.' "