DENVER – After 20-year-old Army Pfc. Rianna Rios won her ninth Golden Gloves state boxing crown, she began focusing on the long road to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Rios earned a unanimous decision over Katina Melendrez in the women's 132-pound division of the 2015 Colorado Golden Gloves Championships on March 27 at the Crowne Plaza Convention Center here.
Rios won seven Golden Gloves belts in Texas before joining the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, at Fort Carson, Colorado, where she is training for a chance at representing the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"It's my time, definitely," she said. "It's time for Rios in Rio."
Golden Gloves Winner
The first victory of Rios' amateur career came at age 11 in a Texas Golden Gloves competition at 106 pounds.
"I went 0-and-3 my first three fights," said Rios, a native of Ben Bolt, Texas. "And then I got my first win at the Golden Gloves when I was 11. It was pretty sweet."
Rios won Texas Golden Gloves belts every year for the next six years, but missed the annual tournament at age 18 to attend Army basic and advanced individual training. In 2014, at age 19, she became a Colorado Golden Gloves state champion.
At the 2015 Colorado Golden Gloves Championships, Rios pressured Melendrez into taking two standing-eight counts in the first of four two-minute rounds.
"She was really not wanting to let go, … but that's part of boxing,” Rios said of the bout with Melendez. “That's part of trying to stay on the outside, though. When they get inside, they start holding. I'm a little shorter, so they always want to keep me on the outside. That's something I'll have to get used to, being at a heavier weight class."
Her championship bout went the distance, but Rios took it in stride -- almost as if she was working out at WCAP's "House of Pain" boxing gym at Fort Carson.
"I was trying so hard to finish it," Rios said. "I should have been able to stop her, but there were circumstances where she would hold me most of the round. I had to realize that I wasn't going to stop her and just work. I was definitely in control. I did what I wanted."
Building Strength, Conditioning
Rios recently completed a five-week strength and conditioning program with WCAP strength and conditioning coach Army Maj. Jason Barber. She bulked up from 125 to 140 pounds before cutting to her competitive weight of 132 pounds for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team boxing trials.
"Major Barber did an awesome job with our strength and conditioning program," Rios said. "I felt a lot stronger at this tournament than I did in January when we fought at nationals."
Hall of Fame Coach
Earlier in the evening, U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program head boxing coach Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette was inducted into the Colorado Golden Gloves Hall of Fame. With Rios in control of her bout throughout, the WCAP duo shared a double celebration in the ring.
"Coach Lev keeps it fun," Rios said. "He doesn't put a lot of pressure on you. He doesn't yell at you. He motivates you in different ways coaches don't usually motivate you.
"Being in there laughing with him, I was so relaxed and calm. I was able to stay patient and calm in the ring, also. When I went back to the corner, he was laughing and taking selfies with me. It kept me calm and kept me composed. It's just the way he coaches. And it works."
Rios said she was proud to be a part of Leverette's Hall of Fame induction night, and even more content to add another Golden Gloves belt to his coaching resume.
"Instead of napping or resting, I was here watching him receive his Hall of Fame ring," she said. "It's awesome to see a coach get that. He works hard, so definitely I'm going to get to where I want to be because of him."
Return to Training
Rios estimated that she is about 80 percent toward where she needs to be to earn a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team.
"It's all based on how your camp goes," she said. "When we get back into to camp, it's going to be 110 percent the whole way through. I feel I'll be at my best at our next qualifying tournament [for the U.S. Olympic boxing trials], so I'm definitely going to qualify at the next one."
On the long road toward Rio de Janeiro, Rios said, she appreciates support from family, friends, fellow troops, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command and WCAP.
"This was awesome," she said. "I had my teammates here backing me up. It's always nice to win and see your improvements and see what you need to improve on. So we're going to go back, look at the tape, and then build up from there."