Photo Courtesy of USA Boxing

Prized Fighter — Sylmar boxer Roxie Verduzco (center) shows off her first place medal and Outstanding Fighter award at the 2016 Junior Open and Youth National Championships at Reno, NV.

I first met Iyana Roxonie Verduzco — just Roxie, if you please — back in 2013 when she was an 11-year-old sprite with boundless energy who showed an aptitude for the sport of boxing. She had gone to several youth tournaments and came back with championship belts. Still, there’s no telling if a young girl is going to continue in a sport that demands so much discipline and sacrifice, even at that age. Interests, like hairdos, music, and clothes, can change on a whim; or the first time you really get hit.

Well Roxie, who lives in Sylmar, is 14 now and a freshman at San Fernando High School.

And this boxing thing is not just a phase. She continues to show talent and grit. She continues to collect titles, and not just from some Friday night beatdown in a local gym.

Roxie won the junior female pinweight division (101-pounds) at the USA Boxing’s 2016 Junior Open and Youth National Championships recently held in Reno, NV. She defeated three opponents — Natalie Dove (Philadelphia) by a second round technical knockout and Amber Rojas (Texas) and Amy Salinas (New Mexico) by unanimous decisions — in four days.

She received the Outstanding Junior Female Boxer award for her performance. She is also the youngest member of the 2016 USA Junior Olympic girls’ team.

She’s definitely an up-and-comer to keep track of nationally.

Her performance in Reno, Roxie said, “means I can go far and I should take it seriously. It feels good I’ve made it this far because I worked so hard for it. And it feels like I can do more. It’s making me feel I can go higher and higher.”

It’s no surprise that boxing comes naturally to her when you consider the bloodlines. Roxie proudly calls herself “a fourth generation fighter in my family” that includes uncles Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a world champion kickboxer and martial artist, and William “Blinky” Rodriguez, a champion boxer and kickboxer. Then there’s Roxie’s late aunt Lilly Urquidez Rodriguez, a world champion featherweight fighter and kick boxer who is in the California Boxing Hall of Fame. Even Roxie’s mom, Gloria Mosquera, was a standout kickboxer. Her stepfather, Rodrigo Mosquera, is a well-respected amateur and professional trainer.

Because Roxie’s potential seems so enticing, the hardest thing for rest of us is to let her career path unfold organically. And that might be hard when you see her superb hand-eye coordination, footwork, steely reserve and punching power. Roxie may be growing into a lady, but she has fast hands and can hit like a mule. She’s proud of the newest punch in her arsenal, a right hook.

“It came naturally,” she said. “I started using it a lot in my last fight. I did three hooks at the same time and hit [her opponent] three times. I was like ‘oh wow.’ I still have my [straight] right hand, it’s still strong and stiff. My left hand is a good one, it can get you off-balance, then the right hand finishes you off.

“That’s now my signature: ‘Right-hook Roxie.”

Best of all, she’s still a kid. Roxie speaks shyly about getting accustomed to high school (“It’s good. The work is hard, but I’m getting used to it”) and making new friends, figuring out what other directions her life might take, what goals to pursue. Going to college and making the 2020 USA Olympic women’s boxing team are top priorities.

Her parents do their best to keep her humble. Roxie works part-time at her mom’s restaurant cleaning up tables — “I get to keep the tips,” she said — and she helped feed the homeless at the Sylmar Armory. “I want to do that again.”

She wanted to try out for the freshman football team as a running back, but her mother said no. So Roxie turned her attention to the Tigers cross-country team, which not only gave her another competitive outlet but also kept her straying too far from her fighting weight.

But running is only a segment of her training, which includes sparring, physical conditioning — lots of pushups and core work because Roxie doesn’t want to do weights just yet — and careful monitoring of her diet. This is where the sacrifice and dedication come in. This year Thanksgiving and Christmas were not holidays to spend with family. Instead they were training days, leading up to the boxing tournament.

Roxie loves what boxing has given her — a gateway to the world beyond the San Fernando Valley. She’s hoping the her junior team might have an opportunity to receive instruction later this year at the USA Olympic Training Center facility in Colorado Springs, CO, after the 2016 Olympics.

Things like that help ease the regrets of not having other teen activities available to her, like pizza parties and sleepovers.

“It’s really tough training; sometimes I feel like wanting to stop,” Roxie said. “But I realize this is making me go places.”

You get the impression she is going places no matter what she decides to do in life, be it a doctor, lawyer, sociologist or MMA fighter. Roxie is bright and engaging, curious about the world and eager to make an impact.

She’s worth rooting for — in or out of the ring.