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He was the little kid that couldn't find

By Jim ManionRecord-Courier correspondent Published: May 25, 2002 12:00 AM

He was the little kid that couldn't find a uniform small enough. When he put the lead donut on his bat while in the on-deck circle, he had trouble lifting the bat.

I watched him grow into a sturdy 6-foot-3 young man in high school. Now the 238-pounder looks like he could pick up a whole bench of H Leaguers.

Firtha is not the same kid physically that I remember at the end of that bench. However, he is the same Nick Firtha, even though he fights under the name of Nicolai.

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The 23-year old is a very personable young man who is never lost for words. He is on a mission to fight in the 2004 Olympics, and is surrounded by a supportive family that lives and dies with every punch.

Nick was very relaxed before his fight against Robert Moses Jacobs Thursday at the Bel-Air Community Center in Akron, and he spent time talking about his career. It seemed like almosthalf of the 800 fans that walked through the doors knew Nick, as they each came over to our table to wish him luck.

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Firtha proceeded to defeat Jacobs, ranked eighth nationally, by unanimous decision.

Nick's parents, Joe and Deb of Randolph, are his strongest supporters. Deb is a 25-year teacher in the Akron City school system, and also serves on the Waterloo Board of Education.

I asked Deb before the fight Thursday night just how hard it was to watch her son climb into the right.

"It took me over a year to come to a match," she grinned. "Now I film each match and say Hail Mary's from the time it starts to the finish. Then I go home and watch it on tape."

Deb said that even though they didn't want Nick to take up the sport, they now believe it has really been good for him.

"Nick wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life, and this wasn't an overnight decision," said his mother. "It took him about six months to convince his father."

Joe decided to let Nick box on one condition: he had to be the trainer. Joe had amateur boxing experience in his younger days that brought on the need for a couple of nose surgeries. He also had his two front teeth knocked out just a week before he and Deb got married.

Despite the scars, Joe always considered himself a pretty good defensive fighter. So he made up his mind that he would help Nick in an effort to protect him. Joe's instructions and discipline could be witnessed between rounds last night, as he made sure his son had eye-to-eye contact when he was providing instruction.

A total of 58 fights have passed now, and there's no doubt that Nick has also learned some offense.

Following the match, it appeared Joe had just spent four rounds inside the ring. The sweat-covered but proud father was beaming from ear to ear.

"This is really fun," said Joe Firtha. "We knew that if we stayed inside we could wear him down."

Nick, who is the sixth-ranked super heavyweight nationally, has beaten half of the fighters rated among the top 10. This June when he travels to Denver to compete in the national Gold Gloves tournament he could meet one or more of the fighters ranked above him.

It's all part of Nick's plan as he counts the days leading up to the February 2004 Olympic Trials.

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