HAVERHILL — Shingirayi "Shin" Murinda was never much into sports — until he discovered boxing.
When he began training at the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club almost two years ago, he threw his heart and soul into the sport, and it showed.
Murinda, 17, a junior at Haverhill High School, is the Central New England Golden Gloves Champion. He won the 114-pound novice division for fighters with fewer than 10 previous boxing matches at a tournament recently at Lowell Memorial Auditorium. It was his first time competing in the Golden Gloves.
Murinda's first bout of the Golden Gloves tournament was against Danny DeJesus of the Haverhill Inner City Boxing Club. Murinda won in a unanimous decision in the three-round bout.
Murinda next faced Christian Moura of Nashua and won again, earning him the Central New England Golden Gloves Champion title in the novice division. It's the first time in recent memory that Haverhill has had a Golden Gloves champion, said Ray Hebert, owner and head trainer of the Haverhill Downtown Boxing Club.
"It was an incredible feeling," Murinda said. "It was also pretty amazing to represent my city."
From Africa to Haverhill
Murinda, a native of Zimbabwe who came to America from Africa when he was 5 years old, was among an elite group of boxers who were crowned champions in their weight classes at the Lowell event.
"Shin is a very quiet kid who loves boxing," Hebert said. "He's always watching films of fights, studying them to learn how to fight. Not many boxers will take time to do this. But we're teaching these kids that if they want something bad enough, they have to work hard for it."
Hebert brought three of his other boxers to this year's Golden Gloves. Tommy O'Connell fought in the 165-pound open. Edwin Rozon fought in the 141-pound open. Josh Reaney fought in the 152-pound novice division.
"People were telling us they represented Haverhill very well," Hebert said. "Edwin's fight was probably the best fight anyone had seen in the last 20 years at the Golden Gloves. It was a real rock 'em, sock 'em fight."
Haverhill was once known as a boxing city. The city's two current clubs — Hebert's Downtown Boxing Club and the Haverhill Inner City Boxing Club — have resurrected the sport here in recent years, especially among young people.
After winning in the Lowell tournament, Murinda went on to fight in the New England Golden Gloves semi-finals against a 25-year-old from Rhode Island. A victory in that bout earned Murinda a spot in the New England finals Feb 23. Murinda fought an 18-year-year old boxer from Connecticut in the novice division.
"It was a good fight, but Shin lost," Hebert said.
But Murinda gets to box again — this time in the "open" class of the New England Golden Gloves semi-finals on March 1. Instead of two-minute rounds, he'll fight three-minute rounds. There aren't enough boxers in his 114-pound weight class, so there's a chance he could go directly to the finals.
The finals are March 2. If Murinda wins that, he goes on to compete in the nationals in Louisiana.
"I'm well aware of my competition and that they are all more seasoned fighters," Murinda said. "I'm a little concerned about the three-minute rounds. I'll have to change my tactics and think faster."
What makes him so special?
"He's at the gym six days a week and he works really hard," Hebert said. "All of my boxers work hard, but it takes a special kid to get this far."
Former professional boxer Brendon Simonds of Haverhill has taken Murinda under his wing.
"Brendon works real hard with Shin," Hebert said, adding that Murinda has now moved into the "open" boxing category, which offers a much tougher level of competition.
Murinda gets mom's blessing
To become a competitive boxer, Murinda had to get his mother to agree.
"I was driving past Ray's gym one day and I asked my mom if I could start training there," Murinda said of Hebert's Downtown Boxing Club. "She was a little worried, but still let me go."
Murinda took a liking to the club and to Hebert, who is the head trainer there.
"I saw some other boxers hitting the bag and I wanted to get to where they were," Murinda said about his first days in a boxing gym.
Since that time, he's been a regular at the club.
"I have not missed a day," Murinda said. "I'm here after school for two or three hours. I start with shadow boxing, then the (heavy) bag, then the speed bag, then the double end bag, then I jump rope. And if I have any time left, I'll take a three- to four-mile run."
It wasn't long before Murinda began sparring in the ring at Hebert's gym. It happens to be the same ring that was in the movie "The Fighter'' based on the real-life story of Lowell boxer "Irish" Micky Ward.
"When you're in the ring, you're the one who has to make all of the decisions," Murinda said of why he loves boxing.
Hours upon hours of training led to Murinda's first match in October of 2015 at the Billerica Elks. He lost that fight, but didn't give up.
"I came back to the gym,'' he said, "and started working even harder.''