POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 25, 2011
Ninety-year-old boxing trainer Al Silva thought his hearing had deserted him again.
What his ears had just told him didn't compute with what his disbelieving eyes and astonished mind were saying.
Was the 15-year-old great granddaughter who stood before him at Waipahu Gym really asking him to train her to be a boxer?
Going on four years later, memories of that conversation prompt a chuckle as Haley Pasion of Waipahu fights Amanda Pavone of Burlington, Mass., tonight for the bantamweight title in the USA National Boxing Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
By virtue of making the semifinals, where she stopped Nephateria Miller of New Haven, Conn., in the third round Thursday, Pasion has already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials next year. But long before that she had won something else — the respect of one of Hawaii’s most decorated, and hard-driving, boxing coaches.
“She is good, you know; she really puts a lot into training,” Silva said.
Praise, indeed, from someone whose own boxing career began in the 1930s and who has trained three professional world champions, an amateur world titlist and dozens of territorial and state champs.
In a gym where Silva taught Andy Ganigan, Jesus Salud, Brian Viloria, Paul Lucas and generations of others the finer points of boxing and still gives instruction, Pasion wandered in. “I watched the boys sparring,” she recalls. “Then, I asked him to train me, too. He’s the best, he knows what he’s talking about and you can trust him. He loves the sport.”
So much so that Silva, a retired Oahu Sugar Co. supervisor, still finds his way to the gym on a regular basis.
“I can look at it from my (apartment) window and it makes me want to go down there,” Silva said. Still, among the kids who wander in he did not expect to see her.
“She showed up all of a sudden and said she wanted me to train her,” Silva said. “I was thinking, ‘What?’ I didn’t believe it at first. But that’s what she said. She wanted to box.”
So he told her, “If you want to be like them, then you have to work,” and the no-nonsense Silva laid out his long-standing ground rules: train seriously and leave “play time” and the vices of the street at the door ... or don’t come back.
But she kept returning and Silva and his assistant, Keoni Adric, kept working with her in a rise that has been meteoric. Though she has moved on to Kawano Boxing Club, she’s had Adric in her corner and keeps in touch with Silva. And before leaving for Colorado Springs, she called her great grandfather.
“He gave me some advice and he told me he’s very proud of the way I’ve performed,” Pasion said.
“Sometimes, when I think about that girl, tears come down my eyes,” Silva said.
Silva says he has long since lost count of how many of his descendants have, at one time or another, asked him to train them.
“I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count,” he says. “But they are going to be jealous of (Haley).”
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com.