OGDEN — Fighting cost Jesse West his freedom.
Boxing offered him purpose.
West’s impulse to lash out at the world put him on a path for sadness and self-destruction.
The sport of boxing showed the 28-year-old Clearfield native just how liberating discipline could be.
But it wasn’t actually the ring that saved West from a life of addiction and agony. It was love.
He hesitates to share such personal spiritual details with a reporter he doesn’t know, but he also hopes that sharing his story honestly might save someone else.
West was the ringleader of a rough crowd when he was in high school. He used his fists to solve his problems, which only created more complicated issues. His drug use turned quickly into addiction, and it landed him in jail.
All the while, his junior high sweetheart did the only thing she could for him.
“When I was out running around, getting in trouble on those long nights, she was praying and reading and crying, just waiting for me to come back to her,” West admits. “It was really tough on her part, with how hurt she was all of the time.”
The answer to her prayers came when he decided to seek God on his own. He began praying and reading the Bible as he tried to overcome the addictions that held him captive.
“I didn’t want to ruin all of the things in my life that was great,” he said. “I hurt a lot of those people running around, and with my history of drug addiction I knew what the reality was. There’s not a whole lot of people who come out of it and get on a good path.”
He knew he needed something more than the desire to live a good life.
“I knew I needed something greater than my willpower or a group, which was the Lord,” he said. “I read my Bible every day and I prayed. Each day was kind of tough at first, but I really don’t have a thought, ever, of drugs or alcohol — ever.”
He said people often express disbelief that he simply prayed his way to sobriety. They even offer stories of others who’ve battled addiction and failed.
“I just tell them, ‘Maybe they haven’t found the healer yet,’ ” West said. “This was about four years ago.”
It was, he said, faith in Jesus Christ that “settled me down onto a path where I could pursue the sport.”
Five years ago he married his sweetheart — Jennifer — and they now have two children, Destiny, 2, and Dexton, 6 months, whom he refers to as “a future state champion.”
And it is his faith, the love of his family and the healing power of sport that have him setting some fairly significant goals this spring.
West is one of six Utah boxers who will compete at the National Golden Gloves Tournament May 13 through 18 at the Salt Palace Convention Center. In order to compete in the tournament, which brings the country’s best amateur boxers to Utah to compete for national championships, West, who will fight in the 201-plus heavyweight category, and his fellow competitors had to win state titles and region titles.
The others competing and representing the Rocky Mountain region are:
- 123 lbs — Alan Leyba — Utah
- 132 lbs — Francisco Lopez — Utah
- 141 lbs — Abram Martinez — Wyoming
- 152 lbs — Larry Gomez — Utah
- 165 lbs — Danny Galloway — Utah
- 201 lbs — Andrew Scott — Utah
The 300 best fighters in the country will vie for Golden Gloves titles with bouts beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, May 13.
West said this year the Utah fighters plan to do more than just “represent” the state.
“This is a lot of hard, hard, hard work,” he said. “The national competitors better be ready because we (Utah fighters) are going to make a splash.”
He’s especially pleased that his friends and family can see him fight in his first national tournament. He qualified last year — winning both state and regional titles — but was injured and unable to compete in the 2012 nationals.
“I’m way excited it’s here in Utah,” he said of the national tournament. “I feel some big obligations this year, not only to represent the state but the people here, my family, the community that raised me. It’s a lot bigger than the state.”
And the goal is much bigger than a trophy or a title.
West, who trains at Foley’s Gym in Ogden, said winning a national title has been a goal that’s come slowly into focus as he’s mastered the discipline of a difficult and often misunderstood sport.
“Fighting isn’t like boxing,” he said. “They’re not the same.” When he fought, he tried to overwhelm the object of his anger in a flurry of energy and violence.
“Boxing you have to learn how to technically fight,” he said. “From day one, I was really learning. It’s very hard to learn how to control yourself. You want to bring that street mentality with you, go full blast right out of the gate. But these guys are tough, and you have to be patient, pace yourself and learn a lot.” West, who works 10 hours a day in construction while training to go pro after this season, appreciates the structure the sport has offered him. A natural athlete, he’s always relished a physical challenge, and boxing gave him the opportunity to use his natural ability while making him a better person — inside and outside the ropes.
He calls the support of his family, especially his mom and wife, “huge.” His mother refused to watch him box at first, assuming it was just an organized version of the fighting that derailed her son’s life. When he fought for the regional title last year, she decided to attend. She was shocked at the discipline and beauty of the sport and hasn’t missed a bout since.
When asked about his goals, West, like most aspiring athletes, dreams big. But before he rattles off his aspirations as a boxer, he has to be uncomfortably honest one more time.
“I know this is a boxing interview and all, but I just want to be the best parent, father, husband, brother and son I can be,” he said. “I just want to be good, as far as a person in the community. And in boxing, I’d like to successfully keep climbing the ranks.”
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