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Beyond the Books

Far from his home in Altoona, Ken Luciano stepped into an Italian boxing ring, facing Italy’s number-one fighter in his weight class. An Italian crowd watched the eighteen-year-old Luciano fight the Italian champion, neither able to achieve a knockout. In the end, Luciano lost the bout on a decision.

Ken Luciano

Ken Luciano at JT's Health and Fitness Center in downtown Indiana

“At the end of a fight, you can’t move your arms,” Luciano said. “It’s overwhelmingly exhausting. You take a beating some nights.”

Now a few months away from his IUP graduation, Luciano looks back on that fight in Italy, which took place the summer after his freshman year, as one of his last two competitive bouts. He also fought the Italian Olympic contender during the same trip.

The year before, he had competed in preliminary “box-offs” for the Olympics against the best boxers in one-third of the United States. Though he lost the match, his ability to reach that level motivated him. “For an amateur boxer, the goal is the Olympics,” he said. He had considered training for another chance at that dream. Instead, he pursued a goal he felt would take him further in life: a college education.

“After Italy, when I was still undecided about my college major, it was a tough decision to stay in college,” said Luciano, the son of Anthony and Carol Luciano. “It’s a hard living to be a boxer. To box, the training is nonstop, every day. There’s no time for college.”

He began boxing when he was sixteen and in tenth grade. His brother, Tony (a 1990 IUP graduate), inspired him to try the sport. A few of his friends started at the same time but later dropped out. After school each day, Luciano spent three to four hours sparring and training at the Altoona Boxing Club, housed in an unheated former butcher shop.

At the club, about a half-dozen boxers between sixteen and twenty-seven trained under the guidance of coach John Robertson, who started the club thirty-one years ago.

By the time Luciano was eighteen, he had fought his way to the regional and state Golden Glove Tournaments, winning both televised bouts. At around the same time, Luciano competed in the Keystone State Games, in which he also was victorious. He also received the games’ Outstanding Boxer Award.

Robertson said Luciano has the qualities to be a leader. “He’s the type of kid that coaches love to have,” he said. “He responds to what you teach him. He puts forth 100 percent.”

Luciano has broken some of his fingers and his nose a couple of times. A few of his knuckles have been repeatedly broken, and they ache sometimes.

Throughout the years of physically demanding training, quitting boxing was always in the back of his mind, but he stuck with it. “If you want to be good at anything, you have to put everything into it,” he said.

He takes the same approach to his academic pursuits. Luciano, a Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management major, works as a dining room manager and bar manager at the Coney Island Restaurant in downtown Indiana. This summer, he is doing an internship there that involves starting a catering business.

Luciano credits Stephen Shiring, an assistant professor of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management, with helping him choose a career in the hospitality industry. Shiring said Luciano often stops by his office to borrow books on the profession. While other students keep them for weeks, Luciano reads them in a few days.

“He has a lot of good questions,” Shiring said. “He takes on and absorbs information at an amazing rate. He pushes to be the best. He just loves to learn, and he works. He can take the theory in the book and apply it very well. In hospitality, you have to serve others, and he understands that concept. He’s blessed with a tremendous personality. People love him.”

Though Luciano devotes most of his time to his work and classes, he recently joined JT’s Health and Fitness Center, located above the Coney, where he occasionally “hits the bag” to keep in shape. He has also worked with a boxing coach in Punxsutawney a few times while attending IUP.

When he’s home in Altoona, Luciano sometimes visits the boxing club. He said boxing is not so different from his chosen profession. “They’re both hard work,” he said. “The hospitality business is like boxing, in that you learn something new every day. Fortunately, unlike boxing, I don’t get punched in the face when I make a mistake.”