Tulare County is known worldwide for what it produces. Come 2021, it may be known for the production of another precious metal.

The last two local prospectors produced the valuable metal over half a century ago. With the way things are going, a mountain of a young man named Richard Torrez Jr. may bestow our area with an Olympic medal as well, securing his spot in the analogs of time, alongside such other area greats as Bob Mathis and Sim Iness, who brought gold home in track and field.

Regardless of what the future holds for Richard, the present is every bit as impressive. He was recently listed by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), boxing’s governing body, as the No. 3 super heavyweight amateur in the world. His ranking is on the rise after his impressive bronze medal performance at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, that followed wins at competitions in Bulgaria and Germany. In the uncertain meantime, Richard hopes to continue to attend international camps to keep his iron sharp. He has one more Olympics qualifier to attend, which was postponed in March at the onset COVID-19 pandemic. This match remains up in the air.

After his Olympic debut, Richard plans on turning professional. Along with that, he wants to attend college to study business. “I want to understand contracts and finances,” grasping the business side of his trade, he says. The fighter stands 6-foot-2 and, depending on the week, is anywhere from 217 to 240 pounds.

He comes across articulate and gentle-manlike. When asked what was one of his favorite moments in the sport so far, his wheels spun for a moment, then a smile appears. “The first time I ever left the country, they gave me $100 for my per-diem before we got on the plane for Russia.” This was the moment that it dawned on him how his destiny was already beginning to form at the age of 15, and the treasures of travel and fortune that lay ahead for those willing to reach for it.

When Richard isn’t at the Team USA Boxing Training Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., his base is the Tulare Athletic Club, a gym in south Tulare. From the outside, it appears like a small, non-assuming warehouse. When the doors open, you see a training facility with everything needed for champ-ionship boxing. However, this gym also provides something not found anywhere else in the world: Richard’s father, Richard Sr., who was an amateur fighter and member of the USA National Team during the 1980s, who amassed a crushing record of 226-36-4. It’s because of this expertise that his son’s been given a gift of love and labor from his dad. Richard Sr. cites the “overall journey” as his favorite part of the ride. When asked about the challenges of a father-son coach/athlete situation, Richard Sr. says, “I knew I had a winner” with his son. “He responds well to instruction. There are days he has to walk away and bite his tongue, but then he processes what I said and we move on.

“This is where the hard work pays off,” Richard Sr. adds of the toil and sacrifice his son has endured along the way. Richard Sr. credits the city of Tulare, local Noon Rotary Club and homebuilder Scott Daley as exceptionally supportive in keeping the gym running. It should be noted that the gym was started in 1945 by Manuel Torrez, Richard Sr.’s father. A competitive Air Force boxer who served in Korea and then in the community, he created a free place for people to train, a practice continued today by the nonprofit gym.

Richard Jr. is a 2017 graduate of Mission Oak High and credits several teachers who supported him on his way up in the boxing world. He is down to earth as well as cerebral in mind as he lists burritos as his favorite food and Beethoven as his favorite musical artist. When he gave me his Instagram name: @TheeRichardTorrez, he half jokingly says “Thee because I’m Shakespearian.”

The story goes that while Richard Jr. was still in the womb, his father placed his hands on his wife’s stomach, giving the future boxer targets to connect with. His first memories of sparring came at 4 years of age, and he officially entered the ring in amateur competition at age 14. The city and county of Tulare, the state of California and the United States of America has a champion on the rise, someone for us to support and be proud of. Richard is a young man who is doing things right, representing everything we see good in our youth, everything gold.