Estrada & Sarnoi: Fellowship of Boxing

The two friends both have upcoming fights on tap!

Boxers Shawn “El Chamuko” Estrada (6-0, 6 KOs) and Walter “Schoolboy” Sarnoi (4-0, 2 KOs) recently took a break from their busy schedules to be guest speakers at the Victory Outreach in Los Angeles. The SoCal fighters visited the local church congregation, which includes kids, teens and adults, in hopes of inspiring the almost 2,000 attendees to have faith–and to never give up in their beliefs and dreams.

Both young men can talk the talk–and practice what they “preach.” Estrada is a 2008 Olympian and member of the U.S. Boxing Team that competed in Beijing and is now a successful pro fighter. But he told the crowd of the heartbreaking losses he has suffered through the years: an older brother killed by gang violence and his father died from kidney and heart problems just as he was returning home from the Olympics. And Shawn is one of 17 children (no, that is not a typo–17 kids!) in the Estrada family, who grew up in the Northern California and East L.A. area. Just 24, the unbeaten middleweight is also raising a young daughter of his own.

Sarnoi, 23, of Thai-American heritage, is from the nearby Monterey Park suburb and has one older brother. He is fluent in Thai and Spanish, and is loyal to both cultures with flags of Thailand, Mexico and the U.S. embroidered on his boxing trunks. A spiritual person, Walter also has Psalm 37 stitched in the satin as well. Walter has worked hard to continue to reach the top echelon in both sports and education; he’s currently earning his MBA from Azusa Pacific. And the boxer and grad student will also be fighting this Friday on the undercard of the Martin Honorio-Wilton Hilario bout at Pechanga Resort and Casino.

And both fighters continue to push in making their goals and dreams a reality. Walter, with his slight build and “Schoolboy” appearance, may not exactly look like a tough down-and-dirty brawler, but he has gained the respect from the fight world. He does admit he had to work hard to earn that respect. There were many times he wasn’t sure if he should continue, many times he wanted to quit. But through his faith and support from others, he has been encouraged to continue.

Estrada has had a couple of injuries to deal with in the past few months, but now he’s looking ahead and really looking forward to getting back in the ring after a short break. His promoter Dan Goossen announced that the promising Olympian will be on the Chris Arreola-Tomasz Adamek card on April 24. After he wasn’t able to fight a couple of times due to minor injuries, Shawn feels he has a lot to prove and is determined to become a main event fighter.

At the entrance of the church building, we were greeted with a very warm welcome. Estrada had visited this particular church before, but this was Sarnoi’s first speaking engagement in front of the large crowd assembled. The two weekend warriors were both honored to be introduced to the Victory Outreach members. “They’re chanting ‘Shawn and the Schoolboy!'” the guys had told me excitedly as we all made our way to meet at the venue.

I had the chance to meet several of the Outreach members and pastors while later listening to their Senior Pastor, Rick Alanis, who was enthusiastically spreading the good word. After his inspirational service, he then introduced the two boxers, Shawn and Walter. They took the stage and told the audience of their own personal challenges they faced–and how their own faith has propelled them toward success. Both young men spoke from the heart and at the conclusion of their talk, the parishioners gave them a rousing standing ovation. The guys then met many of the churchgoers who said they enjoyed hearing their emotion-packed speeches and hope to see their upcoming live fights. There was also a talented live band that performed during day, inspiring those who need an extra lift, especially in these tough economic times. Here are some exclusive behind-the-scenes snapshots of the pair visiting the church.

After the morning service, a small group of us broke bread with Pastor Rick, Pastor Phillip Marquez, Pastor Steve Pineda and E.L.A. Sports Scene’s Isaac Galvan. The gentlemen told me there are over 400 churches throughout the world and at their own Boyle Heights location, they invite guests at both a morning and evening service. The men were very gracious and I was honored to be included in this special meal. Over a delicious Mexican feast, there was time for some boxing talk too. We discussed the Super Six round robin, in which Andre Ward upset tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler during their first-stage bout. Pastor Steve has known Ward (whose nickname is S.O.G. for “Son of God”) for over 13 years. They first met in Hayward, California when Pineda was a youth pastor. Pastor Steve believes that years from now, after Ward retires from the ring, he would make a great pastor himself.

Those at the table then asked the two boxers seated more about their own upcoming bouts.

“I’m really excited about my fight,” Sarnoi said. “I just can’t wait. I’m prepared mentally and physically. He will be taking on Jerry Mondragon and I asked him if he’s seen his opponent fight before.

“I don’t much about my opponent–but I do know he will come to fight!” was the reply. “I don’t take any opponent lightly so I’m prepared for anything, especially since being in the ring with World Champions.”

The super bantamweight trains with coach Danny Zamora and is champion Yonnhy Perez’s sparring partner. “I want to thank my friend and IBF World Champ Yohnny Perez for being such great teacher because I’ve learned how to do many things in and out of the sport of boxing through him. I’m still a student of the sport where I learn every day!” Walter also occasionally works out at Estrada’s gym with trainer Rodrigo Mosquera. He is training extra hard with one more goal in mind: the big L.A. Marathon on March 21. As he balances boxing with his school books, the fighter is appreciative and grateful for all the opportunities that have come his way.

The student athlete wants to take time to give a shout out to those who have helped him along the way. “Of course, I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to be a boxer and grad student. And I want to thank my team for believing in me especially when NO ONE gave me a chance to accomplish anything in the sport of boxing!”

With both boxers working through their own hardships and obstacles while moving up through the ranks, the two pals know they are very lucky to have all that they do in these life-changing opportunities.

Sarnoi says he feels blessed and fortunate that so many doors have opened up for him. And he is glad that he didn’t give up on his goals. He then asks if there’s any way he can name some individuals that have been invaluable to him. Walter, sounding like an actor accepting his Academy Award, is very poised and well-spoken when he relays to me, “I’d like to thank Goossen Tutor Promotions for giving me the opportunity to fight on their event. Thanks to Danny Zamora, Cesar Flores, Bravo, and Rodrigo Mosquera for giving me the knowledge and advice at times when I didn’t think I wanted to compete anymore. To my strength and conditioning coach, Howie Vitasa, for helping me be in the shape of my life. To my rock climbing coach Eric Tan, who’s helped step up my conditioning to another level! Also to my friends, classmates and supporters at Azusa Pacific University for showing me much love everywhere I go, especially my professors who have worked with me–despite my hectic schedule.”

Before we say goodbye, the thoughtful boxer adds one more statement. This one, he says with a hearty dose of strong faith and conviction.

“I want to represent my people to the fullest,” Walter states firmly. “I’m here to stay. I’m here to win.”

Whatever your own personal beliefs are, keeping the faith and having confidence in yourself are definitely assets that can only help these two young fighters in their quest for world titles.

Both boxers, with their humble beginnings, could have quit a long time ago. They could have easily given up. But they chose to march forward and in doing so, now hope to inspire others to also never give up.

Photos by Michele Chong

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  1. Isaac

    Thank you for the story. Our senior pastor Phillip Marquez at Boyle Heights has been great, he’s been here for over 13 years. He and his wife Roberta do a great job & We were happy to have one of our elder pastors, Pastor Rick/San Bernardino be a guest speaker. This was a very special day for all of us. Thanks again, I’ll be at all of Shawn and Walter’s fights in the future. See you Friday.