Xavier Köhlen Xavier Köhlen Sacha Ruland

Tax lawyer or prizefighter?

Written by  Graziella Runchina Wednesday, 14 October 2015 00:00

While your average student is enjoying a beer in the sun on this sultry summer evening, Xavier Köhlen is working up a sweat at boxing club De Amateur in Munstergeleen. The 23-year-old Limburger of Moluccan descent is not only a top boxer with a cabinet full of trophies, but also a second-year student of Tax Law at Maastricht University (UM) and a fourth-year student of Sport and Physical Education at the Eindhoven University of Applied Sciences.


And as if that weren’t enough, he also manages to hold down a job. ‘Taking it easy’ is simply not part of Köhlen’s vocabulary. In addition to combining two degrees with competitive sport, he works 16 hours a week at the Dutch health insurance company CZ. “It’s all about time management; making a strict schedule and then sticking to it”, he explains. “Juggling everything can be tough, but it’s doable. Planning ahead is the key. And keeping your eye on the prize, when it comes to both boxing and studying.”   Relative newcomer Köhlen has just returned home from an international boxing tournament in Düren, Germany, and is about to head to Mallorca for a week-long holiday. The night before leaving, he stuffs two sets of boxing gloves in his suitcase. “I might run into someone to spar with in Spain”, he says. “Who knows?”

Köhlen is a relative newcomer in the world of boxing. Those who do know that the Sittard native has been the Dutch welterweight champion (<69 kilos) since last November will be surprised to learn that he decided to dedicate himself to competitive boxing only a few years ago. Until 2013, he was best known for karate. National champion on multiple occasions, he spent a full seven years on the Dutch karate squad. He also qualified for several European and World Karate Championships and won various national as well as international titles, including a gold medal at the European Youth Championships in Paris at the age of 16.

Olympic sport
“I’ve always boxed alongside karate”, Köhlen reveals. “Just for fun really. But the boxing ring kept drawing me in. Part of the appeal is that unlike karate, boxing is an Olympic sport.” Köhlen decided to call it a day with karate after participating in the 2013 European Karate Championships in Azerbaijan. His late start as a professional boxer did not hold him back. “Boxing is a very well-rounded sport. When you’re boxing at a high level, every detail matters. I already had the strength, speed and agility. I now have to work on the technical aspects. Boxing isn’t just about throwing punches, as some people might think. You have to step into the ring fully prepared. There’s a reason I spend hours on end watching videos of boxing demos on YouTube. If you want to win, you have to get everything right: footwork, technique, coordination, you name it. By consciously working on all these aspects, you can keep on improving.”

Strict routine
Studying, training, working, sleeping and eating. Those are the bare bones of Köhlen’s daily life. “Going out, watching TV? That’s not for me”, he says. “Of course I also make time to relax. But only in moderation, or else I wouldn’t be able to keep this up. I don’t live like a monk 365 days a year, but I am hard on myself. No drugs, no alcohol, no smoking. I go to bed on time and I watch what I eat. But I do have a girlfriend and friends I see every once in a while. I also consider my coach to be one of my best friends; he’s always there for me and takes great care of me.”

Competitive athlete status
Because Köhlen is registered as a competitive athlete, he gets certain privileges that help to keep his boxing and his studies from interfering with each other. “When I have important exams, I spend less time training and don’t pay as much attention to my diet. And I try to plan competitions and tournaments in weeks when I have less studying to do. I can take care of most things myself and receive full support from Eindhoven as well as from UM. I’m very interested in the field of tax law and I expect that much of what I’m learning in this degree will be useful to me if I eventually decide on a life in sports. As an athlete, I can generate income in several countries. Thanks to this degree I know how taxation systems work, what’s tax deductible and which tax reliefs I’m eligible for.”

Highest level
“In the coming years, I want to participate in as many high-level international boxing matches as possible, and get a pro contract if possible. Studying remains my first priority for now, though. It gives me something to fall back on when I’m struggling with boxing, as I found out a couple of years ago when I was out with an injury.” Köhlen is spreading the last year of his Sport and Physical Education degree over two years, and he aims to finish the second year of his Tax Law degree as soon as possible. “Three years from now I’ll have graduated and know whether I have a future as a professional boxer. Right now, studying and boxing competitively is the perfect combination for me. It would be great if I could still box as a tax lawyer, or, as a boxer, still build up a normal career – you can look at it from both angles. I’ve already seen that a career as an athlete opens up a lot of doors in society. A large fitness company is interested in collaborating with me, for example. Together with a few legal and tax advisers we’re trying to figure out how exactly we could make that work.”

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