Nicolás Cruz Hernandez' life story includes: being cheered on an open-topped bus. Being homeless sweeping floors in the Stadium. He stole his passport to flee Cuba, had a lucky meeting with a Shaolin monk and now teaches yoga to prisoners. (2020)
So, how did Nicolás get from an open-topped bus to a camp bed in a stadium?
Having initially arrived here to train Irish boxers for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Nicolas trained both Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona – they won a Gold and Silver Olympic medal for Ireland - beating two Cuban boxers in the process.
This achievement drew international praise and was mentioned by Cuba’s President, Fidel Castro. But Cuba’s boxing authorities were not so happy: They were preparing for the next Olympics in Atlanta, USA. The USA had blockaded Cuba since the 1960s and the Cubans wanted to win as many medals on US soil as possible. They certainly did not want any of their trainers going abroad and doing what Nicolás Cruz Hernandez had done - help other countries to take medals from Cuban competitors.And so, Nicolás was recalled from the Irish Olympic team back to Cuba.
But Nicolas was unhappy in Cuba and wanted to return to Ireland. So while on a foreign trip, and with the help of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, Nicolas defected from Cuba to Ireland – leaving his wife, children and profession as a university lecturer in sports science all behind him.
The Irish boxing community welcomed Nicolas with open arms and he went straight to work training the Irish boxers for the 1996 Olympics. But the job of training the Irish boxers was not an actual job - there was no salary and no accommodation. Not only that, the Cubans wrote to the Irish boxing authorities and warned them against bringing Nicolas to Atlanta. So, Nicolas was dropped from the team and his boxers came back from Atlanta with no medals.
And this is when things began to go downhill for Nicolas.
He slipped into depression, before eventually turning to friends in the Irish boxing community. They helped him get work, teaching yoga and Spanish in an Irish prison. He began to rebuild his life, even managing to buy a house in the Irish Midlands – and returned to visit Cuba, although his marriage was now over.
But depression never left Nicolás. And he still slips in and out of it. A few years ago, when he sought help from his friends in Irish boxing, they came up with an extraordinary deal: They knew he was missing his family in Cuba – and, in particular, his 98-year old mother. So, they proposed that if Nicolás got professional treatment for his depression, they would take him back home to visit his family in Cuba.
"Nicolás Cruz Hernandez – Still Fighting" follows Nicolas and his boxing friends on their journey to Cuba - while also telling the story of an extraordinary world-class boxing trainer - in and out of the ring.
Produced by Bill Tyson and Ronan Kelly
First Broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 - Saturday 04th July 2020 @ 2pm
Repeated RTÉ Radio 1 - Sunday 05th July 2020 @ 7pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries