Dorothea Lange

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Jakob Schiller
Timothy Wheeler

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Application deadline November 30, 2009

Dorothea Lange Fellowship

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Child Boxer
photography by Timothy Wheeler

"I'm an ordinary kid, go to school, come home, eat, sleep. But inside the ring I feel a lot tougher." Tyler Terrazas, 12 years old

Boxing is compelling entertainment where heroes embody masculinity in one of its purest forms. But what drives a champion to succeed in one of the world's most violent sports when the champion is just 12 years old? And at what cost?

In 2005 and 2006, I followed several youth boxers from Vallejo and Los Angeles, Calif., through a series of tournaments en route to the 2006 Silver Gloves National Championships in Independence, Miss.

Inside the ring, over 500 fighters, ages 8 to 15, slugged each other in the hopes of winning the coveted national title. Outside the ring, I saw kids literally starve themselves in order to make weight. One kid tried to lose six pounds in two hours by intensely working out wearing a sauna suit and several layers of clothing. He almost passed out from exhaustion and cried when he failed to make weight for the tournament.

A combination of individual will and parental pressure push these kids to their physical, mental, and nutritional limits. Surgical nose cauterizations to prevent nose bleeds, skipping weeks of school to attend tournaments, and spitting out pounds of water weight are part of their reality. Yet the pride I felt as the kids I followed pounded their opponents sent chills down my spine.

From sparring matches and competitive tournaments to hotel rooms and weigh-ins, these photos represent the world of child boxing.

I also produced a documentary film with producer Jordan Robertson about the journey of a top 12-year-old fighter from Vallejo, Calif., gunning for his first national championship:

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