Rio de Janeiro: As a child he would knock on car windows trying to sell melting popsicles or roam the streets attempting to flog vegetables.
Now Brazil’s Robson Conceicao is guaranteed at least an Olympic bronze, the first medal in boxing in Rio for the hosts, after his unanimous points decision win in the lightweight quarter-finals on Friday.
The 27-year-old, who grew up fast hawking his meagre wares in the city of Salvador, calls himself a “survivor”.
“I have had a very difficult life,” he said. “I’ve been through so many different things in my life to survive.
“As a child I worked, helping my gran sell things so we could get by. And all the energy, the focus, the determination that I bring to the ring comes from my past and I use that to achieve my goals.”
Money was so scarce that proper boxing equipment was out of the question, so a young Conceicao — who admits that he was a bully as a child — and a friend came up with a plan.
“We had nothing so we did our best to get things,” he said. “I went to the hospital and faked that I had an arm injury. The nurses covered my arm with bandages and then I used those bandages to tape my hands for training and sparring.
“My friend used to put flip-flops on both of his hands for me to punch when we trained.”
Conceicao, Brazil’s biggest boxing medal hope, will need all that resourcefulness in Sunday’s semi-final — he faces Cuba’s three-time world champion Lazaro Alvarez.