Building bodies and building machines
Georgios Michopoulos is a sophomore studying mechanical engineering, but in Flanagan Gym, where he’s captain of the SU Boxing Club, he goes by “Kilo.”
He recalled trying boxing for the first time October of his freshman year. “The Coach said ‘how much do you weigh?’ [and] I said 72 kilograms. ‘What’s kilogram, we’re in the U.S.,’” Michopoulos remembers his coach saying. Michopoulos said that his coach was joking, but began calling him “Kilo” ever since. Now, few people in the club know his real name, Georgios.
Hailing from Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, Michopoulos attended four years of German school and two years of American school before deciding that he wanted to study engineering in the States.
“I guess I always wanted to understand how things work and why some things happen,” said Michopoulos, “I was always fascinated by cars, machines, airplanes, stuff like that.” He spent his high school years making small model airplanes out of wood and metal and learning about the ways suspension and transmission systems in cars worked.
Now, it has been almost two years since his move to Syracuse. It was the first time he’d been by himself in a country 12 hours from home. “Things get tougher when you go to university…you need to be 100 percent focused in what you do,” he said.
Academics always comes first for Michopoulos. But as a swimmer of 14 years and a dabbler in everything from ping pong to sailing, Michopoulos gives sports tremendous importance too. “I’m gonna be 20 in March and all those years I’ve never stopped doing one type of sport competitively,” he said. Michopoulos always knew that he would make time for himself to do a sport and to do it competitively, and over his four years in college, he wanted to try something different.
“Fourteen, fifteen years of swimming—I think they were enough, let’s start something else,” he remembers deciding. “I tried boxing. I like boxing, I had fun.”
He joined SU Boxing that first semester and grew dedicated to the sport. He trained five days a week with the club and practiced by himself through swimming and running. Michopoulos had watched Ukrainian boxer Wladimir Klitschko fight in Greece before and wanted to emulate him. “His last fight was [at] 41 years old. I wanted to be like that guy.”
Boxing showed him that “if you work, come to practice, set your goals and also make sacrifices, it pays off. Because I work, I’m getting better.”
“Although maybe sparring and getting punched in the face isn’t the best thing,” he said. Michopoulos said that besides boxing being good for health, stamina and getting faster, “You learn how to be patient, work on your goals, something that you aim at.”
For him as captain this year, the big goal is getting a belt in the national championship. He spars every week, but the fight in March will be his first actual boxing fight ever.
“For me, the most important thing is for our team is to do well. That’s my priority,” he said.
Evolving from a complete beginner his freshman year to captain of the team, he’s gone through many difficult times in his training when he couldn’t lift his arms, so tired from practice that he was unable to focus in class.
“I get punched in the nose a lot, in the face,” said Michopoulos, “My coach says that I’m like a punching bag. I get hit a lot in the head, but I’m tough, I guess.”
Michopoulos’s parents are also worried about him boxing, especially his mom. “I know that she doesn’t feel great about me boxing, because she just doesn’t want me to get hurt. But I know she always supports me in whatever I do, always, whatever choice I make, even if she doesn’t agree with that.”
He went back home this past winter to celebrate Christmas with the family. He misses his mom’s cooking and the homemade Greek food. He had his first Thanksgiving, a holiday not celebrated in Greece, freshman year with his father’s second cousin in New York. Michopoulos mentioned the Greek immigration to America before and after World War II, talking about how Astoria in New York City is a Greek neighborhood, and how Stamna Greek Taverna in NJ makes him feel like he’s in Greece.
“The Greek community in the U.S., especially in the East Coast, it’s pretty strong,” he said.
Despite the population of Greek-Americans in the states and at SU, Michopoulos only knows one other “Greek Greek” here, Constantine Hadjidimoulas, a fellow engineering student. “That’s the only Greek guy that’s like all the way from Greece, and he’s 100% Greek. There are Greek-Americans but he’s the only Greek [I know].”
He can tell if someone’s Greek from their last names, but most second, third or even fourth generation Greek-Americans don’t speak Greek anymore. Michopoulos also co-founded the Hellenic Student Association at SU last year with Hadjidimoulas and another Greek student who had transferred away.
“There’s like a Greek student organization in every school in the U.S., but not here for some reason,” Hadjidimoulas said. He knew about the many other international student groups on campus and that many American schools have Greek student organizations. “I can honestly find universities that you’ll be like, ‘why is there a Greek club there, there’s no way there’s Greek people there.’”
Michopoulos explained that they didn’t name the club “Greek Student Association” because they wanted to avoid the confusion with the Greek life of fraternities and sororities. The club welcomes people who come from Greece and interested in learning Greek cultures.
Michopoulos enjoys interacting with people from various different cultures, though: he’s friends with people from all over the world and said that when talking about things like engineering and certain sports, he’s more comfortable discussing in English than in Greek. “I don’t even know the terminology in Greek,” he said.
Now, juggling classes, association activities and boxing, Michopoulos is extremely focused on getting his team into shape for the fight. With the fight coming up shy of two months, Michopoulos and the boxing team are training and adjusting their diet to move into different weight classes.
When asked if he’s nervous about his first fight, he said, “No, I’m not nervous. I know that I’m doing the best I can. I can’t do anything more.”
“If I do well, I’ll do well. If I don’t do well, that’s how life works, you can’t always win. But even if I lose, I know that I’m gonna get better, I’m gonna learn from my mistakes, and hopefully next time I’m gonna be better. But I never go with a mentality that I may lose.”
And that’s Kilo.
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