Freudis Rojas fights in the Men's light welter during the semi finals of the AIBA World Boxing Championships Hamburg 2017 on Aug. 31, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.
Boxer Freudis Rojas Jr. had a dream last year that he was at the Olympic Games, on top of the podium, arms raised in the air.
It felt so real, he said, that it seemed like something sent from God.
The Las Vegas native has faith that dream will come true, and plans on spending the next several months doing everything he possibly can to make the Olympic team. If he does, he said, he would be the first U.S.-born boxer of Mexican and Cuban descent to do so, and that’s something that means a lot.
“I like when people ask me what I am because I feel like in this country there’s a lot of immigration, and especially in Las Vegas you see a lot of Mexicans but you don’t see a lot of Cubans,” said Rojas, 22, who goes by Freddy. “When someone says, ‘What are you? ’I’m proud to be Cuban and Mexican. One-hundred percent.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, but for Rojas every day is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate his unique heritage.
His father was a boxer in his native Cuba and was even a member of the national team there until he left the country at 16 years old to come to the United States. Two of the five friends with whom he made the journey died along the way, Rojas said. After arriving in Miami he settled in Las Vegas with the help of the Catholic church.
Rojas ’mother was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. at 8 years old after her mother passed away. The two met years later after her father invited his boss, who was Rojas, over for dinner one night.
“My dad said it was love at first sight and they’ve been together ever since,” Rojas said.
Boxing was always a part of the family. His father returned to the sport professionally at the age of 22, and it was something Rojas grew up with.
It just wasn’t something that particularly interested him for a long time.
In fact, his dad tricked Freddy and his brother, Enmanuel, into thinking they were going to the grocery store one day to get a treat and instead dropped them off at a local gym and left.
Boxing became part of Rojas ’life, and he was good at it, fighting for the first time at age 11 and winning by unanimous decision.
Still, he didn’t like it very much. He stuck with it, he said, because he didn’t want to hurt his father’s feelings.
“I hated every single moment of it,” he said. “I remember going to bed crying, and then trying to fake being asleep but my dad would still drag me to the gym. But I’m glad he did that because of where I am now.”
His feelings changed in 2014 when Rojas had the opportunity to come to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a training camp as a member of the junior national team. Being in the presence of Olympians was eye-opening, he said, and his inclusion made him realize his potential.
Rojas said that his proudest moment so far in boxing is winning the bronze medal at the world championships in 2017 as a light welterweight. It was the first time the U.S. medaled in the weight class at the world championships since 2009.
“Getting back then bringing the medal to my dad, that was one of the proudest moments I can have,” he said. “He told me my whole life that he saw something in me in boxing, but when you’re a kid your parents tell you things all the time and they go in one ear and out the other. But you could see his face and he started tearing up when I brought him the bronze medal. That’s all I want to do is make my dad happy. That moment right there, I’ll never forget it. That’ll stay with me until the grave.”
Despite his mother being from Mexico, he said, he grew up in a Cuban household.
“I think my mom turned more Cuban than my dad,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s possible, but she did.”
He spoke Spanish before English because his parents wanted him to be bilingual, although Rojas is quick to point out that Mexican Spanish and Cuban Spanish can be quite different. His father also frequently told him, his brother and two sisters stories about growing up in Cuba. Some were good, such as eating mangoes in the forest, and some weren’t, such as many kids in boxing gyms not having shoes or even gloves.
Freddy and his family also traveled to Cuba every year, he said, so they could experience it for themselves up until the past two years as he’s been training for the Olympics.
That training was, of course, paused for several months this year because of COVID-19, but the U.S. boxing team returned to training and sparring over the summer and recently left for Europe. They’ll compete in tournaments in both Spain and France, marking their first international competition since traveling to Bulgaria in January, Rojas said.
Rojas is currently listed as the alternate for the Olympic team, but no one has actually qualified or been named to the team yet.
“We won’t have a decision until January or February, so it’s still up for grabs,” he said.
He hopes that his dream will then become a reality.
“You’re always going to have, you could say, doubts or nerves that you go through, but I know that God’s got my back and I’m going to put my faith in Him,” he said. “If I believe in Him, why am I going to be
nervous or scared or doubtful? I think about that dream, he gave me that dream for a reason and I just have to have faith that it’s going to come true.”