For Jacki, it happened in Idaho at 10 years old, when she hurt an opponent for the first time. Almost a decade later, she’s the seventh-ranked fighter at 106 pounds in Team USA’s Youth Women division.
For Lizbeth, it was at 8, when she avenged a loss against a foe who had beaten her a few months prior. Now, Lizbeth is the top-ranked boxer at 101 pounds.
And Monica’s epiphany that she had a future in boxing came at age 8 when she cracked a boy with a left hand that left him dazed. Now, she is the country’s second-ranked boxer at 106 pounds.
Each girl has also received national accolades by winning at least one amateur national championship.
And they were all born within a minute of one another.
The Garcia triplets hail from Rawlins, a town with less than 10,000 people known for its oil refinery and state penitentiary.
They came into the sport as a trio and have combined their personalities to navigate the world, but the triplets have found ways to establish their individuality as they’ve come of age.
Doing so has also disrupted their symbiotic relationship. Needing some time for herself, Jacki is on hiatus from the sport, while Lizbeth and Monica propel their amateur careers.
The girls plan to stay together and move to Cheyenne in the coming months, where Lizbeth intends to focus on boxing and working part time. Monica plans on boxing and attending Laramie County Community College, and Jacki may arrange to return to boxing, work a part-time job and focus on a criminal justice degree.
Still, the girls acknowledge the growing pains are readying them for the moment when they leave each other’s side.
Wyoming isn’t exactly the boxing capital of the world, and finding good sparring — fighting in a controlled environment to enhance a boxer’s skills — can be a tedious task. So the girls learned how to fight by beating up the boys.
As kids, after a month of training, they were better than most of the boys in the gym. That’s when Monica knew she had developed a taste for the cruelest sport. Of her sisters, she was the first to fall in love with boxing.
“There was this one specific guy, and for some reason, there was tension between him and me,” Monica said. “We would go really hard on each other, like throwing and throwing and throwing, and I felt like a spark. It was an eye-opener for me.”
Monica, the only southpaw out of her sisters, throws with mean intentions. She likes to fight inside but is also comfortable counterpunching.
When she hits the mitts, her punches sound like a combination of a cracking whip and a loud thud, and when she connects with a full-forced punch on her opponents, they seem to freeze in pain for a millisecond, as if they don’t know what just happened.
The girls were only three months into training when they had their first match, and from what Lizbeth can remember, she said she got beat up pretty bad.
She felt prepared, but by the end of the fight, she was a little too inexperienced for her opponent. A few months later, a rematch ensued, and Lizbeth came out the victor. She was only 8 at the time, but she realized all of the hard work and determination in the gym paid off.
“I was really nervous because she did beat me, but when the bell rang, I no longer felt scared — it (felt) like relief,” she recalled. “All my feelings went away, and I realized it was just her and me in front of each other.”
Lizbeth starts her offense with the jab and likes to throw in combinations. She darts in and out of range and tries to avoid staying close to her opponent for too long.
And while her sisters realized their potential early on, for Jacki, it took a few years. She reluctantly joined her sisters at the gym and didn’t enjoy getting beat up.
But after winning a few fights and attending more matches, Jacki started coming around to the idea of boxing. However, it wasn’t until a fight in Idaho that she realized she had an itch for dominance.
She battered her opponent to the point that the referee gave a standing eight count. While in the corner, Jacki thought to herself: “I should probably keep doing this.”
An aggressive and come-forward fighter in the past, Jacki has become more patient since the last time she fought competitively in December 2019. She assesses her opponents: Who has longer arms? Does the opponent like coming forward or counterpunching?
The triplets estimate they’ve each fought somewhere between 70 and 80 fights and have won around 70% of them.
They’ve traveled all over the country in search of fights: Maryland, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Texas.
“Being in Wyoming, we’re kind of isolated,” said Cesar Garcia, the triplets’ father. “We don’t get too much sparring, so it’s hard for them to compete with Texas.”
But make no mistake about it, his girls know how to fight. Jacki is a three-time national champion, and Lizbeth and Monica have won national championships in 2019 and 2020.
Boxing is a violent sport. It is also a sport, however, that centers around community and instilling determination to those seeking it or least expecting it.
Twenty-eight bouts took place on May 1 at the Casper Boxing Club, where kids from Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, New Mexico and more showed up to fight at a time when some states still had COVID-19 restrictions in place.
Before their respective fights, the triplets each had a hand in the show. Jacki was checking gloves and hand wraps. Lizbeth was time-keeping. And Monica was clerking.
As their fights approached, their attitudes began to gradually shift, along with their look. Monica and Lizbeth changed into their boxing attire, braided their hair and shared headphones before warming up.
By the time they were warming up with their trainer Walter Steinke, they were completely dialed in. Monica with thudding left hands and rapid-fire combinations. Lizbeth with hard uppercuts, overhand rights and well-placed counterpunches.
Due to Lizbeth’s experience and age, she was forced to fight Alexandra Luby in a 125-pound fight, and the size disparity between the two was apparent as soon as they stepped into the ring. Lizbeth was 109 pounds that night.
According to Cesar, facing heavier opponents is a common occurrence for Lizbeth, who relies on her technique and experience to overcome the disadvantages.
The first round was close, with Lizbeth’s fluid combination punching and Luby’s come-forward attack.
The second round saw Luby bloody Lizbeth’s nose by bull-rushing her and pushing her around the ring. By the third round — the ground in the blue corner, where Lizbeth was stationed, was covered in her blood — she was tired from fending off her bigger opponent on the inside. They traded left hooks, but Luby got the better of it. Lizbeth countered Luby with the left hook, but it lacked the same mustard it had in the first round.
When the scorecards were read, Luby won a close decision.
“I definitely felt like it was not my night that night for some reason,” Lizbeth said. “I was disappointed in the way that I performed. It’s not that way I want to be looked at.”
The final bout of the evening, Monica battered Gracy Kennedy in a 106-pound match. The first round was the closest round of the fight, but Monica, who had faster feet and hands, still won decisively with her better technique. Kennedy valiantly tried to close the distance but was popped with counter right hooks and left hands.
By the second round, Monica was pulling away with the victory by continuously stunning her with straight lefts. By the third, Kennedy was hurt by almost every left hand that landed and received a standing eight count after Monica punished her with combinations.
“Normally, I would go with my (left hand) then to my (right hand),” Monica said. “But I got her with my right hand and that was when I was like ‘I got to go!’ But my body was so tired.”
Kennedy recovered long enough to make it to the final bell, but lost a unanimous decision to Monica.
Monica celebrated her victory modestly that night, knowing Lizbeth was disappointed with her loss.
“Some people lose and they don’t care. They don’t have that in them,” Cesar said of his daughters. “They need to win.”
Cesar has always surrounded his family with good company — the father of five children, he also has twin boys, one of whom boxes — but he’s also aware of how the world treats women, and he wanted his girls to know how to fight.
He expected that they’d be able to defend themselves, but he never imagined having three national champions and with Lizbeth and Monica contemplating turning professional.
“People tell us, ‘You’ve put Wyoming on the map,’” Cesar said. “I say thanks, but we owe it to everybody. The coaches and athletes that surround us. We didn’t do it ourselves. Everybody and the whole state of Wyoming (helped).”
When the girls first began boxing, he had to convince his wife, Esther, that the girls would be safe, but deep down, he was concerned for the safety of his daughters. Even after close to a decade of watching his girls box, his hands still shake before a fight.
Ray Montoya, a Cheyenne native, is one of those that’s helped along the way. As a family friend and boxing coach with 32 years of experience, he’s seen thousands of fighters on the amateur circuit. But he knew the girls had the “it” factor the moment he saw them fight as children.
“It doesn’t matter if you come from the smallest town and make it on that big national stage,” Montoya said. “Everybody has gloves on their hands. So it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You can do it, whether you’re from a town of 500 or 5 million. And these girls, I think, have that. They have that shot. It just takes time.”
The girls have trained throughout the state and Colorado but have transitioned to working out of their garage, which mainly functions as a small boxing gym with three heavy bags, a speed bag and an area for mitt work.
Las Vegas Raiders memorabilia covers the gray painted walls on one side. The other has hundreds of trophies, medals and plaques of tournaments and matches won by the family of fighters.
“I think girls train harder than boys in our gym,” Montoya said. “We don’t call them girls or boys. They’re boxers.”
They train for a few hours a day, five days a week. They maintain a strict diet and try not to balloon too much above their weight class. Monica walks around at 109 pounds and only has to lose a few pounds to get down to 106, but Lizbeth has to go on a military diet to make 101 pounds — a weight she believes she’s outgrown.
“When they get that low, the body gets a little frustrated to lose that last bit,” Montoya said. “Boxing is not fun. It’s tough.”
Women’s boxing and MMA is going through a renaissance at the moment, with prominent female boxers like Katie Taylor, Clarissa Shields, Amanda Serrano, Jessica McCaskill and Seniesa Estrada all getting TV exposure lately.
And women’s bouts are regularly featured on UFC cards.
Cesar and Montoya just have one issue: Women fighters should be making more money. They’re doing the same thing the boys are doing.
“You know, they put on a better show sometimes too,” Cesar said.
A few weeks after turning 18, the triplets sat in Jacki’s bedroom and prepared for their graduation party.
Jacki, eyelashes already in place, was the first one ready. Her straightened hair and black dress stood out from her sisters.
She and Monica helped Lizbeth with her curly hair, a long sleeve red dress and selected high heels.
Monica, with her hair and dress matching Lizbeth, sought the most guidance, from her eyelashes to her shoes. The most ferocious fighter of the girls, but also the most timid, is the only one to wear sandals. By the end of the night, Jacki and Lizbeth would join their sister and switch to sandals.
When friends and family started arriving to the Carbon County fairgrounds, the sisters spent over a half hour taking photos with several different friends, family members and guests under an arch of balloons toward the back of the hall.
Guests played several rounds of musical chairs, ate chile colorado — a beef or pork stew originating from the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, and made from dried chiles and vinegar — drank and celebrated the coming of age of three sisters who have centered their identity around one another.
At the 2021 USA Boxing National Championships in Shreveport, Louisiana, which Jacki missed due to school and work, Lizbeth and Monica both missed their sister, the outgoing one who initiates conversations with strangers.
“That was like the main thing at nationals,” Monica said. “We’ve always had Jacki go and talk to people first. We missed her so much. It was like, ‘Jacki, we need you!’”
Lizbeth, meanwhile, believes her sisters can navigate life by themselves and that she’s the one who needs them. But if you ask Monica and Jacki, they would both say they’re the ones that need Lizbeth.
Soon they will distinguish themselves as individuals with a move to Cheyenne — just a two-hour drive from Rawlins, but far enough to be away from the reach of family.
“We really do navigate through life together,” Lizbeth said. “It was natural, we went to school together, we lived together. But now, we’ve lost a little of our source of communication and it’s preparing us for separating in the future.”