Sharilyn Walters listened to her son Zach cry over the phone as he sat in jail in Duluth, Minn.
“What am I going to do, my life is over,” she remembers him saying through the tears.
Zach Walters, one of the top amateur boxers in Minnesota at the time, had been arrested by a drug task force team for marijuana possession – a habit he says started when he was in eighth grade.
“The habit took me down a long path of problems,” Walters said.
The arrest turned out to be a life-changing moment. It’s a miracle Walters believes is truly God-sent.
“I went to church and asked God for help to change my life and give me something better to live for,” Walters said. “That has happened. My life has become something I never imagined it could be.”
Now, only three years later, the 24-year-old Fergus Falls (Minn.) High School graduate and University of Minnesota-Duluth senior has leaped into boxing’s professional ranks.
Riding a five-fight winning streak over the past year, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound righthander is scheduled to face Iowa native Jesse “Iron Jaw” Sanders in an eight-round, non-title fight Saturday at the Duluth (Minn.) Entertainment and Convention Center.
It’s the main event of the “Truth In Duluth,” a fivematch boxing card featuring professional fighters from Minnesota and North Dakota.
“Boxing has become an outlet for him,” said Walters’ manager and promoter Chuck “Sharky” Horton.
“It was a place for him to put his head. He was a confused kid.”
Now, he’s seeing more clearly.
“Boxing is something that’s brought true happiness to my life,” Walters said. Root of true happiness
Madagascar – the small island country east of the African mainland – also meant true happiness for Walters.
That’s where he grew up when his parents served as Lutheran missionaries from the time he was 15 months old.
But Zach’s life took a dramatic turn shortly after his 12th birthday when his parents returned to the United States. The family moved constantly, taking on new missions and trying to find steady work.
The Walters’ four children quickly became strangers in a new world.
“He was Tarzan, basically,” Horton said. “These kids were nuts.”
Walters’ strange journey eventually earned him the nickname, “Jungleboy,” a reference to his former tropical home, not his fighting style.
“I try to be a real disciplined, fundamentally sound fighter,” Walters said. “I try to be cold in my emotions, try to be analytical.”
Walters’ fighting style is a transformation from his childhood, when he never quite found the right place to call home.
“We moved from a thirdworld country to St. Paul, which was a culture shock,” Walters said. “Then to Fresno (Calif.), which was just nuts.”
Finally, after a short time in Pelican Rapids, Minn., the Walters found a home in Fergus Falls.
“That was where the family felt most comfortable,” Walters said.
Birth of a career
It was in Fergus Falls where his boxing career began. When Walters was 15, his parents encouraged him to try several sports. He settled on boxing.
Nearly a decade since he began sparring, Walters is now riding a wave of success. He’s been clean from drugs and alcohol since April 2002, and has found success in the classroom.
He recently made the UMD Dean’s List for the sixth consecutive semester (every semester since he was arrested) and is two classes away from a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He’s also working as a counselor assistant at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Duluth.
“Zach is multidimensional,” said Sharilyn Walters. “He’s a great boxer, but he’s a great person, too. And I don’t just say that because I’m his mom.”
Walters’ career took off in September after a secondround knockout of Marty Lindquist for the Minnesota state light heavyweight boxing title.
“I’m so impressed with his level of development, physically- and maturitywise,” Horton said.
Walters recently spent two weeks in Florida with Buddy McGirt, who has guided notable boxers Antonio Tarver and Arturo Gatti.
Walters is thankful for the opportunity – and thankful that his life took a turn for the better.
“I look in the mirror and it’s hard to see myself doing many of the things I did several years back,” Walters said.
Now, he’s focused on Saturday’s bout against “Iron Jaw” Sanders.
“He (Sanders) is the guy I’ve been looking at for quite a while,” Walters said. “I cleaned out Minnesota. Now we’re going to see who’s the best in two states.”