Torres fights to live a normal life
To hell and back is how Juan Torres describes his life-threatening ordeal that began nearly a year ago.
The second of two strokes nearly killed the 32-year-old retired South Lake Tahoe boxer. Obstructions to his brain arteries impaired his left side, slurring his speech and making it difficult for him to walk and grip objects.
Time and months of rehabilitation at Emerald Bay Physical Therapy have almost returned Torres’ life to normal. The six-time world kickboxing champion says he’s regained 60-to-70 percent of his health.
He has difficulty holding things steady in his left hand and his jogging workouts are limited to a quarter mile because his right leg does most of the work.
“My left side is still pretty weak,” Torres said. “I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m happy with it, but I’m not 100 percent.”
Wednesday was a special day for Torres. Doctors permitted him to return to his job as a butcher at Horizon Casino Resort.
“Doctors told me that they didn’t expect me to recuperate so soon. I told myself that I was going to get better or die trying,” he said. “I trained so hard for this fight; this fight is my biggest fight of my career.”
The onset of the strokes occurred on the day he was scheduled to fight Cesar Bazan in a $5,000 payday last June at the Peppermill in Reno. He felt dizzy and lost some feeling on his left side days before the scheduled 10-rounder and when those telltale stroke signs didn’t clear up only hours before fight, Torres pulled out of the bout.
Torres spent the next couple of days at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where doctors told him he had suffered a stroke and how his decision not to fight may have saved his life.
At the time, Torres announced his retirement from the ring, but when things returned to normal in August, he resumed training. That’s when he experienced the more devastating second stroke.
“I was beginning to train again and reschedule the fight,” Torres recalled. “I went to (brother) Hector’s fight in Sacramento and the same doctor (Van Buren Lemons), who had diagnosed the first stroke, happened to be there. My eye was getting droopy and I said, “Doc, what do you think?”
Lemons advised Torres to check into UC-Davis Medical Center immediately, but he decided to go home and rest. The next morning Torres was awakened early by the doctor, strongly urging him to reconsider his advice. This time, Torres listened, a reconsideration that might have saved his life again.
“They told me that if I hadn’t gone to the hospital, then I would probably be dead now,” he said.
Besides speech impairment, the second stroke rendered his left side practically useless. But Torres didn’t taking his misfortune lying down. Following three months confinement to his bed, Torres began therapy in January and slowly is regaining full use of his body.
“Only when I look downward do I have some double vision. Once in a while I’ll say a word backwards or slurred. I can tell it’s going away,” Torres said.
And so has his passion to fight. Even though he remains active in the sport training local fighters, Torres has come to terms with his prize fighting retirement.
“It’s a rough sport. I always said that dying in the ring would be the way to go, but when that got closer, I got a little smarter,” said Torres, who finished with a 17-9 boxing record and a 50-3 kickboxing mark. “To me, it wasn’t meant to happen. When I finally made it happen, this thing happened to me.
“At least I can say I was a contender. I was co close to fighting for a world title, and a lot of people can’t say that. And in kickboxing I retired a God, so I’m pretty happy about that.”
Lydia, his wife of a 13 months, has shown the strength and support to get the couple through the difficult period.
“She’s been through a lot,” Torres said. “When they have that in them and give you that kind of support, it shows you a lot.”
The challenges of the past year were eased by the “support and generosity of our family, friends and our employers,” Lydia said.
Torres’ improved health has allowed him to resume training fighters, including protege Simon Ruvalcaba, who will make his pro debut Friday in Vallejo, Calif. It’s a change in profession that Lydia is completely comfortable with.
“I totally support him on that,” Lydia said. “You can’t take that away from him, that’s his whole life. I support him 110 percent.”
Ruvalcaba, 23, knows Torres’ recent medical history but wouldn’t want anyone else in his corner to launch his pro career.
“There’s more confidence for me having someone like him there,” Ruvalcaba said. “He’s a motivator and a hard worker. We have been clicking well in training, and he’s the reason I came here, because I know what kind of trainer he is.”
Ruvalcaba was convinced when he saw Torres step in and work as a cut man for two fights on the Pernell Whitaker-Carlos Bojorquez card April 27 at Caesars Tahoe.
“He stopped two cuts that night,” Ruvalcaba said. “If something were to happen to me, he showed me a lot that night.”
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