How boxer Roberto Garcia survived a horrific past

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Roberto Garcia celebrates after a win over Norberto Gonzalez in February. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)

Roberto Garcia

Roberto Garcia celebrates after a win over Norberto Gonzalez in February. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)

LAS VEGAS – Life, at long last, is finally good for Roberto Garcia, a 34-year-old boxer with a dream. He's getting close to normal. He can finally close his eyes and not be enveloped in a nightmare.

"You know, I'm happy in my life," said Garcia, who will face Breidis Prescott on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" on July 25 in Chicago in a 10-round super lightweight bout. "Since I've been 10 years old, I've been trying to put back together what I've lost.

"My dream, all I ever wanted in life, was to have a happy home with a husband, a wife, the kids and a dog. That's what I've wanted to achieve. Since I've been 10 years old, I've wanted nothing more than that."

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Garcia is a powerful man who has had a checkered past.

He drank. He took drugs. Anything he could do to wash away those horrific memories, he'd do.

As he's speaking about his dream, his voice quivers. It's hardly a shock.

Garcia came from a poor family in what he calls "a broken-down neighborhood" in Houston.

When he was 10 years old, he walked into his parents' bedroom just as his father shot his mother to death, and then committed suicide by turning the gun on himself.

Roberto Garcia, right, working against Norberto Gonzalez, fights July 25 in Chicago. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)
Roberto Garcia, right, working against Norberto Gonzalez, fights July 25 in Chicago. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)

In one loud, ugly, violent moment, 10-year-old Roberto Garcia had his life yanked from him and no one did much to help. No one really could help.

Oh, he went to a few counseling sessions. He lived with a succession of relatives and family friends, often sleeping on a couch or a chair, or just curling up on the floor.

The people who took him in were well-intentioned and tried to reach him, but Garcia withdrew. No one was going to replace his father, Rafael Garcia.

When he was in the fifth grade, he drew a picture in class of a man holding a gun.

The tragedy never left him, even if he never annunciated it. That noise. That sight. His mother's eyes. The blood.

It was horrid. It was the worst day of his life, probably the worst day of anyone's life.

"Everybody tried to be my father, but they couldn't, and I rejected them," Garcia said. "They weren't my parents."

Garcia spent much of his young life looking to reclaim what he had. But he was a young boy, barely able to fend for himself with emotions and feelings he couldn't begin to comprehend. He was shuttled from school to school, from home to home.

No one could get to him because no one could possibly understand the horror, the pain, the nightmares that were with him constantly.

It wasn't until a chance meeting at a South Texas fitness center many years later that Roberto Garcia finally began to get some relief from his pain.

He eyed a woman named Nana Gonzalez working out on an elliptical machine. He was instantly drawn to her.

But Nana was different. Garcia had never had trouble finding a woman before, but this woman wasn't cooperating. She was quiet, aloof and didn't respond to his advances.

He was engaged to be married at the time, but it hardly mattered to him. He wasn't interested in his fiancée; he was interested in Nana. But she showed little interest in him.

"I'm going to be honest with you," he said. "I feel it's important to tell the truth. I was engaged, and a lot of people might think bad about me because I was interested in another woman when I was engaged. But I didn't want to be engaged. I felt I was being forced into that marriage by another family.

"I did care for her, but I was not in love. It didn't feel right. I wasn't ready to be married. And so I wasn't sorry because I was interested in [Nana]."

Nana slowly began to come around. And Roberto Garcia found what he'd long been searching: A woman to love, who could help him raise the family he so desired.

They were married on Dec. 13, 2007, in Weslaco, Texas. He's the happiest he's ever been in his lifetime, he says, but he won't be tomorrow.

Garcia, left, is 35-3 with 23 knockouts. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)
Garcia, left, is 35-3 with 23 knockouts. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)

"I'll be happier," he says, his voice brightening noticeably. "I'm so in love with her that every day with her is better than the day before. I know most fighters don't like to do interviews like this, where they talk about themselves that way. They want to make themselves sound tough, and big and bad.

"I don't care about that. I don't. I have my feelings and I want to tell you truthfully how I feel."

On Wednesday, he dropped Nana and their 2-year-old daughter, Gia, off at McCarran International Airport. He won't see them again until next week, when it's fight time in Chicago.

As he pulled away, tears were in his eyes.

"Every time I'm apart from her, it hurts me so, so badly," Garcia said. "I just love this woman so much, and our love gets stronger every day. I fight for them. I do this because of them, so I can give them what they need and make their lives better."

He quickly admits that he once boxed for very different reasons. He was addicted to the attention, and the fast and loose lifestyle of the road. He had an inner rage that came from what happened on that devastating night in 1990, and boxing provided an outlet of sorts for it.

But the game no longer carries that allure to him. It's a means to an end.

"I still like boxing, don't get me wrong," he said. "But I feel differently now. I was very immature before. I wanted the attention and I was looking for the wrong things. I didn't care. But I'm a different person now. She changed my life 180 degrees, totally. She's helped me to become a better man, a real man."

That night he saw his parents die will never leave him. He and his brothers, George and Ralph, are now able to talk about their parents and reminisce about them without falling apart emotionally.

It wasn't always that way, though.

The problems began when their father, Rafael, developed a drug and alcohol problem in the late 1980s and into 1990 that was tearing the family apart.

His mother, Antonia, was planning a divorce and she was quietly moving her belongings, little by little. The family wouldn't see Rafael for days, and when he came home, they never knew what to expect.

"The bills weren't getting paid and our lives were falling apart," he says.

No one knows for sure what drove Rafael Garcia to corner his wife in a bedroom and fatally shoot her in the chest as his 10-year-old son watched.

Antonia Garcia fell to the ground and Roberto Garcia raced out of the house, screaming hysterically. He heard another sound and ran back inside.

Nearly 25 years later, he vividly can see the scene.

"That night I saw my parents die in front of my eyes, it was impossible to believe," Garcia said. "For days, at the funeral and seeing them in the coffin, I didn't accept that they were really gone forever. I was so young and that was so hard to accept and to understand. It wasn't until we got to the cemetery and they buried them that it really hit me. Then, I knew they had passed."

Garcia's voice is quivering, but this is something he wants to say, almost as if it's something he needs to say. And so, his voice fraught with emotion, he continues the narrative.

"I remember everything," he said. "Everything. I remember the room, the light, the lamp, the bed, the gun. I remember it like it was a movie. I remember everything from that night."

Garcia, left, now owns a fitness gym in Weslaco, Texas. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)
Garcia, left, now owns a fitness gym in Weslaco, Texas. (Tom Barnes/Tomba Images)

Thanks to his wife, though, he's managed to cope, to somehow shove that awful memory to the recesses of his mind.

He's consumed by love and by gratitude and is successful beyond what anyone could possibly have predicted.

He's 35-3 with 23 knockouts heading into what he says is a major fight for him against Prescott at the UIC Pavilion.

He has a fitness gym, AMZ Fitness, in Weslaco that is doing well.

He's married the love of his life and she's given him a precious 2-year-old daughter, Gia. Nana is 5 ½ months pregnant with their second daughter, whom they plan to name Bobbi.

He'll never forget the events of the dreadful night in 1990, but he's managed after so many years to piece together everything he lost.

"Our relationship is so strong and we have eight great years together, and counting," Garcia said of his wife. "We're on the phone all day with each other when I'm not [training]. At night, we'll be on until one of us falls asleep, or the signal goes out.

"If she falls asleep, it's OK. I love to hold the phone next to my ear and listen to her breathing. It's like she's with me. She's been everything for me and I owe her a great life, the best that I can give her. I used to be a bad guy; I did drugs and I drank and I'd waste money like crazy out with my friends. But now, my life is about my family. Everything I do, from the moment I wake until my eyes finally close at night, is for them."

What happened to that 10-year-old boy who saw something no one should ever see is a tragedy of epic proportions.

But when Garcia thinks of his life these days, he sees it one way.

It's a love story.

Despite the horror, this is a love story about a man, a woman and their family being fully in love and hoping to go on to live happily ever after.

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