BARSTOW — Kenia Enriquez woke up at 5:30 a.m., took a shower and hit the road.
It took her nearly five hours to cross the Mexican border and drive up Interstate 15 to the Veterans Home of Barstow.
Enriquez, who is from Tijuana, was among the handful of “special guests” to visit the home for a meet-and-greet with the residents. Some of the guests included former boxers Paul Banke, Mando Muniz, Gerald Washington and Sindy Amador. NFL Super Bowl champion Efren Herrera also attended the event.
Enriquez is a professional boxer and recently won her second title. Enriquez (19-1, 9 KOs) scored a third round knockout over Maria Salinas in Sonora, Mexico to win the WBC light flyweight on May 27.
“It was such an honor to come meet those that served this country,” Enriquez said in Spanish. “It was beautiful to see so many smiling faces today. The residents here wanted to take photos with me, hold my belt and just ask questions. They made me feel important. But that’s not the case because these veterans are so important to the country.”
The event was put together by Anthony Saldana, who is an employee at the Veterans Home of Barstow and affiliated with Supreme Boxing, a boxing news website. Saldana used his boxing connections to bring this event to the Veterans Home of Barstow.
“I reached out to the World Boxing Council and told them the event I was planning on putting together,” he said. “They were interested and said they would bring some of their championship fighters and some gear to raffle away. One thing led to another and here we are with a pretty big turnout.”
Jose “Pepe” Sulaiman, Jr., of the WBC’s Los Angeles office, presented the home with an honorary championship belt. Sulaiman is the son of Jose Sulaiman, who served as the WBC’s president from December 1975 until his death on Jan. 16, 2014.
The WBC is one of four major organizations which sanction world championship boxing bouts.
“This is much better than I expected,” Sulaiman said. “Boxing is a sport of gentlemen and values. That was on display today. The WBC always tries it’s best to help and be proactive in the community. We visit children in hospitals, we visit nursing homes anything involving social service for the community we do. We strive to provide a moment of happiness. These are folks that are heros to this country so it was easy and important for us to come visit.”
Sulaiman, just before the event ended, announced the WBC would be coming back the week before Thanksgiving for a special lunch.
“We made the decision on the spot,” he said. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are the times when family-time is especially important. We want to show our support these residents when their families may not be able to come visit. Their new boxing family will be here to visit. We will make sure to bring some of our champions to come serve meals to the residents.”
Resident Joseph “Twig” Twohig, who served in the Army from 1946 to 1948, was among the many residents walking around with a boxing glove filled with signatures from the guests.
“I can’t believe we had these guests come to our home to meet us,” Twohig said. “This was so cool to see all these former greats interacting with the veterans. For some of the veterans, this is the only interaction they get with the outside world because they can’t leave the premises or they don’t have any family that comes to visit. So this means the world to us and it’s great for the morale around here.”
Jose Quintero may be reached at 760-955-5332 or JQuintero@DesertDispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_JoseQ.