Twin Columbia Graduates Are Pursuing Their Dream of Olympic Boxing Gold
May 13, 2010
Daniel and Gabriel Castillo talk about boxing and their time at Columbia. (4:19)
After seven years of amateur competition, Gabriel and Daniel Castillo, 22-year-old twin brothers, decided to give up boxing and attend Columbia. Raised in Brooklyn, the identical siblings had built a reputation as competitive athletes both in the U.S. and their native Panama. Among other accomplishments, Daniel received a gold medal and Gabriel a silver medal at the 2002 National Police Athletic League Championships held in Atlanta, and in 2005, they were each awarded Panama national titles in their weight classes. Now, as they prepare to graduate from Columbia College, the brothers are returning to the ring with the goal of joining the Panama national boxing team in the 2012 Olympics.
Since the twins resumed serious training a year ago, it has been a challenge to strike the right balance between school and boxing. The brothers missed the New York Golden Gloves competition in January because they had taken a two-week break from their training to study for finals. Their trainer, Michael Kozlowski, a former Soviet boxer who has coached champion boxers from Russia, Israel and the United States, refused to let them compete.
At 165 pounds, Daniel, who wants to be a doctor, is a middle weight, and Gabriel, who weighs 152 pounds, is a welter weight; he hopes to become a lawyer.
“He’s always hit harder than me,” Gabriel said of his brother. “He fights more like a hunter. He would stalk you; he wouldn’t just go to war with you.”
Gabriel, on the other hand, “embodies the Panamanian style of boxing: hit and not get hit,” said Daniel. “He looks pretty when he fights.”
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After years of following a strict schedule training in the gym and attending Stuyvesant High School, the brothers arrived at Columbia eager to be active both in and out of the classroom.
“This was our chance to dabble,” Daniel said.
Although the brothers share a passion for boxing and attended the same high school and college, their paths diverged when it came to academic interests. Inspired by Kevin Lamb, Mellon Teaching Fellow, who teaches a Core Curriculum course on contemporary civilization, Daniel decided to expand an economics major into a joint major in economics and philosophy. Gabriel majored in political science. In 2007, the brothers worked together to found a new chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, a historically Latino-based fraternity committed to creating and expanding multicultural leadership, at Columbia.
In the end, the time off made the twins more committed to boxing than ever. With their undergraduate studies complete, they are now gearing up for qualifying competitions for the 2012 Olympics. Gabriel qualified for the Panama national team in January, and Daniel hopes to do so this summer; both still need to qualify for the Olympics at one of several upcoming competitions, including the World Championships in South Korea in September 2011 or the Pan American games in Mexico in October 2011.
“I needed the time to think,” said Gabriel. His parents had encouraged him and his brother to enter boxing at the age of 11, and he described how difficult it was to know if he was in the sport for himself or for them. “It took me until 2008 to realize, it’s me that wants to do this.”
Daniel feels that life outside the ring had become “too comfortable.” With his break from boxing over, he now sees that, for him, boxing is more than just a sport.
“This is what I love about boxing,” Gabriel added. “When you’re in the ring, when you fight somebody, it doesn’t matter what school you went to. It doesn’t matter where you grew up. [Your opponent] bleeds the same blood as you. It brings the humanity out of both of you.”
Four Columbia faculty were awarded Sloan Research Fellowships by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. They are Mark Churchland, assistant professor of neuroscience; Wei Min, assistant professor of chemistry; Simha Sethumadhavan, associate professor of computer science; and Wei Zhang, assistant professor of mathematics.
Alondra Nelson, associate professor of sociology, won the 2012 book award from the Association for Humanist Sociology for Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination.