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UK weekly edition, Wednesday, May 30, 2007

BRANDON — Staff Sgt. Eugene Marques is on what could be a once-in-a-lifetime training mission.

He rises before the Texas sun each morning and trains four times daily, sweating through seemingly endless conditioning drills, regular sparring bouts and adhering to a strict diet.

So why is his wife in England the one exhausted at the end of the day?

While Marques trains at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio with the Air Force boxing team, his wife, Jonita, is back in rural England taking care of the couple’s three young children.

“He’s never been deployed, but I know what it’s like to be a single parent now,” Jonita Marques said. “But I also know that if he continues to train hard and fights well that he may earn a trip to the Olympics, which makes it very exciting.”

Eugene Marques is preparing now, with his team, for the upcoming U.S. National Boxing Tournament in Colorado.

The 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron airman began his journey into the world of amateur boxing at a relatively late age when he was stationed on Okinawa several years ago. He and his wife became regular viewers of the reality television show “The Contender” with Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard.

“Soon after we watched the show, he said he wanted to start boxing,” Jonita Marques said. “He’s always been very athletic and always kept himself in very good shape, so it wasn’t too difficult for him to get started, but he still had a lot to learn about the sport.”

The slight, 28-year-old Guam native — who regularly weighs about 135 but dropped to 119 for boxing — began working out with the Marine Corps boxing squad on Okinawa.

He took some punishment from the Marines but also learned his way around the ring and earned the respect of his competitors.

His boxing confidence prompted him to compete in a handful of tournaments, where he established himself as a dogged competitor who made up for his lack of experience with a singular commitment to winning.

Eugene Marques honed his skills well enough so that by the time he arrived at RAF Mildenhall last year, he was prepared to make a bid for the Air Force boxing team.

He fell by decision to Kaiserslautern, Germany-based Spc. Alexis Ramos in the Armed Forces Championship, but impressed the coaches nonetheless.

“Even though I lost, the coaches liked what they saw, and I was invited to join the Air Force boxing team,” Eugene Marques said during a recent phone interview from Texas. “They said I was the least experienced person on the team, but that I showed a lot of talent and potential.”

If the airman excels in Colorado next month, he will be offered the opportunity to compete for a chance at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.

That will mean another extended training deployment in America, and another extended single parenting role for Jonita Marques here in England.

“It’s a lot of work, for the both of us, but I support him through whatever,” she said. “He’s working so hard for something he may never get another shot at. I’m so proud of him that we’re willing to sacrifice until he’s done chasing this dream.”

Eugene Marques, for his part, says the only thing harder than his training is longing for his family.

“It’s never easy to spend this much time away from my kids, and talking on the phone is only so good,” he said. “And my wife’s support is just unbelievable. She’s given up so much of herself for me, and that’s what’s so amazing.”

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