The CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan learned many of skills as a youth growing up on the South Side of Milwaukee and then as a boxer as he fought his way to seven championships.

Hector Colon spoke about five essential virtues he developed and that guide him in life and leadership at the Waunakee Rotary Club’s Oct. 1 virtual meeting.

“Champions aren’t made in the gym; they are made from something deep inside of them, a desire and a dream,” Colon said.

He attributed his success as CEO of the large nonprofit to those five virtues he learned sometimes the hard way, saying successful boxing champions and CEOs work hard to maintain and elevate their status.

“You learn to bob and weave, and sometimes take it on the chin,” he said.

Colon said he was bullied as a boy, and one day, another boy called him a racially derogatory name and beat him up. When Hector returned home with blood running from his nose, his father took him to the gym to learn some boxing skills, so he could defend himself.

Colon’s parents divorced when he was 12, and his father, after returning to Puerto Rico, never sent money to the family. Colon’s mother worked two jobs, and the neighborhood was plagued by drugs and violence. Colon said he had a high score for adverse early childhood trauma.

Through it all, he began to develop those five essential virtues – magnanimity, humility, courage, perseverance and temperance.

His father’s act of taking him to the gym and the coach’s recognition of the young Colon as “a natural” taught him the first virtue.

He became welterweight champion and in 1992 was favored to go to the Olympics. But he lost a key fight. He then turned to the Bible and gave his life to Christ, he said. Better prepared for the next big fight, he knocked his opponent out in the first round, and promoters began calling with offers of big money.

Colon then felt a calling away from the sport, he said, as the Bible teaches that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“It was the hardest decision I ever made in my life. Something I worked so hard for was at the tip of my finger, and I walked away,” he said.

He learned humility from his mother, who worked two jobs but never complained as the family struggled. And courage he learned from overcoming many challenges.

Boxing also taught him perseverance, to never give up, a virtue he also employed later on when he was taking his exams to practice occupational therapy. He finally passed the exam the third time.

Temperance, or self-control, was also key when boxing. Successful boxers have to maintain self-control in the ring and not react when they’re taunted. Hector related this virtue to the present day.

“Now, more than ever, with political polarization and civil unrest, we need temperance more than ever,” he said.

He encouraged Rotarians to embrace these virtues, as well.

“Do something that is remarkable and honorable and see how that will make an impact on others and on you,” he said.

Colon has authored a memoir, “My Journey from Boxing Ring to Boardroom.” It is available on his website, hectorcolonmke.com

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