Santa Ana teenager Ronny Rios has fought his way into contention for the U.S. Olympic boxing team. He didnt do it alone

Ronny went outside and gave him a hug. "He's still the same. He looked old. I just hugged him. I was just talking to him, like, regular," he says. "He was like, 'How come you guys don't call?' I was just like, 'I lost your number.' He gave me his number but I haven't called him back."

Ronny didn't ask his dad why he hadn't called all these years. "I just felt awkward. I just wanted to leave. I don't want to start seeing him every week. Why is he going to come back into our lives after he left? So that's why I don't call him. I don't care if he comes back or not," he says.

"I mean, I'm fine just the way I am right now. I'm not a troublemaker. I'm not in jail. I didn't kill myself. I'm not a weird kid."

Santa Ana's Ronny Rios. Photo by John Gilhooley.
Santa Ana's Ronny Rios. Photo by John Gilhooley.

When Sal came out and their father tried to hug him, Sal stepped back, says Ronny. "He said, 'Naw, I don't want to hug you.'" Sal then told Ronny they had to go and they left. They haven't spoken to their father since.

Salvador Sr. has never come to one of Ronny's fights and Ronny says he wouldn't want him to come. "It would feel awkward. I mean, why show up now?" If he ever did, Ronny would kindly tell him to leave.

"Like, okay, let's say I do become like, big, okay, which, I never think about that, but let's just say I'm fighting like at a big stadium and he just shows up and he says, 'Hey what's up?' I'm not really gonna talk to him," he says. "I'll probably like, if he tries to ask me for some money, I'll probably give him some and say, 'Here man, just get out.'"

Ronny says he felt kind of sorry for his dad when he saw him in December. "He looked all old and used up. You could just tell in his face that he'd been through a lot," he says. "But that doesn't mean that I want to start hanging out with him. It's been too long already."

Ronny says he left his father's phone number on the table in the dining room that day and hasn't seen it since. Neither he nor Sal ever programmed it into their cell phones. Attempts by the Weekly to reach the elder Salvador Rios were unsuccessful.

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It's at least 110 degrees in the desert and Lopez has packed Ronny, his wife, Erica, and their two young daughters into the family's white Chevy Tahoe. He's arranged for a prime sparring session for Ronny at Barry's Boxing Center in Las Vegas against several fighters who mirror the kind of styles Ronny needs practice against before the Olympic Trials.

While he makes his way along the hot, dusty highway, Lopez notices something out of the corner of his eye. It's a pickup truck that is tumbling and flipping down I-15 in the opposite direction. Lopez screams and pulls over. He runs out of the car with Ronny and across the divider to the other side of the highway. The truck finishes its tumble upside-down. "All I could see were clothes and blood scattered along the highway," Lopez says later.

They approach the truck, along with other passersby who have stopped to help and find three women trapped inside. "I had to stay calm," says Lopez later that night.

"You weren't calm!" says Ronny, laughing. "You were like, 'Oh my God, oh my God!'"

The boxer and his coach help pull two of the women, one of them four months pregnant, out of the truck. The third woman, who is trapped between the small back seat and the two front seats, they don't move. They leave the scene when a doctor arrives.

As they approach Vegas, Lopez is still shaking. Ronny is thinking about a car accident he was in a few years ago. His family's Suburban flipped on the freeway when Delia's boyfriend clipped the back corner of a car that had come to a stop. None of the boys had their seatbelts on. Ronny remembers being asleep and then waking to the strange and quiet sensation of being catapulted upside-down and then closing his eyes again. When he awoke, the car was still and right-side-up. He scrambled out. The only person he checked on was his mom.

By the time they reach Barry's Boxing Center, Ronny is more than ready to spar and Lopez is more than ready to coach. But Ronny's sparring partner, Teddy Padilla, is in Coachella at a tournament. His coach forgot to call Lopez to cancel the session.

"We came all this way," Ronny says wistfully. Lopez seethes. Ronny's head drops. "Let's at least get a workout in," Ronny says to Lopez. He wraps his slender, boyish hands and finds a corner where he can shadow-box. Lopez tries to cloak his frustration as he calls the boxer's coach—in vain. He gives Ronny instructions quietly. "It's okay," he says, "We'll see if we can find someone for tomorrow."

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