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BEIJING 2008

Life beyond the ring

Shawn Estrada of East L.A. is defeated in his second bout in Beijing. Then he learns his father is gravely ill.

August 17, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- For most of the last 11 months Shawn Estrada has lived in a cocoon that only boxing has been allowed to penetrate.

But that was a sacrifice he was willing to make for a chance at Olympic glory.

Saturday, however, his Olympic dream came to an end with an 11-5 loss to Britain's James DeGale in the second round of the middleweight competition. And as Estrada is about to find out, the real world he left nearly a year ago isn't the same one he's returning to.

His daughter Alyssa, for example, who was barely walking when Estrada entered training camp in September, turned 2 while he was in the ring Saturday.

"I wish I could have won, give her that birthday gift," he said.

And while his daughter was celebrating her birthday, Estrada's father, Juan, was at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, admitted three days ago for dialysis and a transfusion, then kept there, fighting for his life, as his health deteriorated rapidly.

But by the time Estrada stepped into the ring in Beijing, his first coach, barely conscious in an L.A. hospital bed, was doing his best to follow the bout through a cellphone held against a TV speaker miles away.

All this was news to Estrada because his father, a coach to the end, insisted no one tell his son, lest he lose focus before the biggest fight of his career.

So when he spoke to his son Thursday, Juan Estrada wished his boy well, then hung up.

"He's doing good," Estrada said Saturday. "He's just happy to see me step in the ring in the Olympics."

That wasn't the first time Juan, 64, lied to his son about his health.

In January, before Estrada had even qualified for his improbable run to the Olympics, Juan was rushed to the hospital for the first time, with doctors giving him two weeks to live.

"I never told him how I was," the elder Estrada remembered recently. "So he wouldn't worry."

His dream, after all, was the same as his son's: to see an Estrada fight in the Olympic Games.

"I'm happy," Juan said before his son left for China. "So much time that I put in and so much time that [he] put in."

Not that it all went smoothly.

As a teenager, tired of his father's incessant badgering about boxing, Estrada left home and moved into a friend's garage.

"We have a hate-and-love thing going," the East Los Angeles boxer acknowledged.

The hate faded, with Estrada eventually following his father back to the gym, the old man literally pushing his son, the longest of longshots, onto the Olympic team.

"I was not even supposed to be here," Estrada said. "I'm happy that I'm a Mexican American representing my country at this weight. There's never been a Mexican American this big to represent the U.S. I'm making history.

"And everybody's seen that I'm a great fighter, I'm a good boxer."

Now Estrada, 23, is in a race to show his father the love part. But it may be too late.

He didn't learn his father's condition had turned grave until late Saturday, when his sister told him.

That was hours after his bout -- and only hours later, doctors were working feverishly to keep the elder Estrada alive.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, meanwhile, has a plane seat standing by for Estrada when he decides to go.

"We'll get him out," USOC spokesman Bob Condron said.

After his fight, Estrada talked about his future, his plans to turn pro and his Olympic experience.

"I can leave here today and I say you know what? I performed in the Olympics," he said. "And I'm an Olympian."

He has his father to thank for that. If only he gets the chance.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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