The Balderas family stand atop a boxing ring. From left, José, Zenon, David and Karlos Balderas. Photo: Courtesy of Everlast. 

David Balderas was destined to raise a family of fighters, but he never imagined that the perseverance he instilled in his sons and grandsons would take the family all the way to the Olympic games. Today, his grandsons are undefeated prospect boxers who are featured in Everlast’s new global campaign that profile powerful stories of inspirational athletes in sports and fitness.       

Their journey began when David left Oaxaca, Mexico, for California through the Bracero Program, which had him working in strawberry fields around the clock for less than $1 per filled crate. 

Back in Mexico, his young sons Zenon and David made do in a home with a cardboard roof lathered in grease so the rain would roll off. 

When the Bracero Program ended in 1964 and guest workers were no longer welcome in this country, David slept in ditches within the strawberry fields and hid from immigration agents, until he saved enough money to move the entire family to the U.S. Eventually, he squeezed nearly 30 family members into a small home, all of whom joined him at the strawberry fields or took on other jobs to start their new lives.  

Today, David is the proud grandfather of first-generation Mexican-American brothers Karlos and José, both of whom are undefeated prospect boxers and are featured in iconic boxing brand Everlast’s Be First global campaign celebrating new boxing trailblazers. “We never thought that they would make it to this point. I am hoping that one day they will be world champions so that they can help their family,” David said.

The brothers had a challenging start when their father, who was a teen when they were born, was incarcerated during their formative years. After several school fights, the brothers found boxing as an outlet for their aggression, and were initially trained by their father, Zenon, and their uncle, David. 

The brothers realized they could turn their love of the sport into a serious career. So they organized car washes, sold chocolates and found local sponsors to be able to compete at boxing events. “A big brother is always supposed to watch over his little brother. I felt like if I was letting him down, we weren’t going to get to where we wanted to go. And not having my mother around and not having my father around, it was up to us to make it happen,” José said.

José had his professional debut in July 2018. Karlos started boxing for fun at age 8 but by December 2014, he had won the lightweight division of the U.S. National Team Trials. In July 2015, he qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics and won his professional debut in April 2017. Zenon sold his car so Karlos could go to the Olympics while his grandfather David sold his gold heirloom watch. 

Despite not winning at the Olympics, Karlos has proven himself as an undefeated boxer with eight knockouts. Boxing afforded him the ability to buy a house for his family on the strawberry fields his grandfather once worked in. “Me and my brother are a sign of hope for a lot of these kids who came from poverty and broken homes. My family was pretty poor growing up, but I never felt poor. I had love, comfort and support. I’m very thankful for my family’s sacrifice; they put their lives aside so I can chase my dream,” Karlos told Pulso. 


Christine Bolaños (she/her/hers) is a Contributing Writer for Pulso. She is an award-winning freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. The 2016 International Women's Media Foundation fellow reported on women's development and rights in El Salvador. She covers government, education, human interest features and business for numerous international, national and local outlets. The proud Salvadoran-American's work has most recently been published in NPR's Latino USA, Fusion, News Deeply, LATINA Style Magazine, Cox Media Group, and The Crime Report. She is a first-generation college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and journalism from Baylor University.