July 28th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Olympic boxer fights to inspire

Editor's Note: On Saturday, Soledad O’Brien introduces you to a Latina boxer about to face the fight of her life as she attempts to make her Olympic dreams a reality. CNN’s Latino in America: In Her Corner, Saturday night at 11 Eastern.

By Soledad O’Brien and Rose Arce, CNN

(CNN) - Marlen Esparza is in London, literally preparing for the fight of her life.

A working-class girl from Texas, she has been training as a boxer since she was 12. Now, at 23, she is about to be among the first women to box at the Olympic Games. Marlen is a 5-foot-3, 112-pound flyweight, a first generation American.

She never expected to become a role model.

Yet, today she is in Spanish-language advertisements for McDonald’s and Coke, representing some of the most well-known American institutions.

“My kids saw her in the McDonald’s ads and they were like ‘wow, she’s a big deal,’” said Dalila Esparza, her sister and best friend, who has four young children. “This is really big in the community.”

Marlen also has sponsorships from Cover Girl and Nike, and the notoriety of being the six-time national champion of the only Olympic sport that didn’t allow women until now.

But fame in the Latino community was a surprise.

“I never thought about it that much,” she told us when we met more than a year ago. “But as time goes on I realize how important this is.”

Marlen speaks very little Spanish and has never been to Mexico. She lives in Houston, where Latinos are nearly 40% of the estimated 2 million residents.

Being Latina was never something she’d given much thought. FULL POST