Vienna police Sgt. Andrew Slebonick’s journey to the boxing ring began in September 2020, when he began experiencing pain and had difficulty performing routine tasks.
He went in for a checkup at his wife’s urging and doctors diagnosed with him with testicular cancer. He later underwent surgery at Reston Hospital.
Slebonick, who turned 32 in July, kept his ordeal private and leaned heavily on his wife, Ashley, and family for support.
“Mentally, I became stressed thinking about what came next, and doubts crept into my mind regarding my ability to father children in the future,” he said.
Slebonick on Oct. 13 will step into the ring at The Anthem in Washington, D.C., and box four two-minute rounds in Beltway Brawl III. The event’s sponsor, Haymakers for Hope, so far has raised more than $20 million for cancer research, awareness, care and survival.
Slebonick will fight as a heavyweight in the event, which will feature 31 other boxers. The fighters will learn who their are Aug. 14 during the event’s media day. Because none of the participants has fought in a sanctioned match before, “we are all somewhat on an even footing,” he said.
(His ultimate opponent should be aware that Slebonick tips the scales at 230 pounds, is 6 feet 6 inches tall and has an arm span of 6 feet 7 inches.)
Slebonick learned about Beltway Brawl last year after a family friend took part in it. In his first week of fund-raising, Slebonick attained 42 percent of his $7,500 goal, which is the minimum expected from participating boxers. He will hold a fund-raiser July 31 at Lost Barrel Brewing in Middleburg, which will contribute 10 percent of drink sales toward his goal.
Slebonick for nearly two months has been training for the upcoming fight at Tysons City Boxing. While fighters typically have a year to prepare for bouts, the Beltway Brawl boxers will have only about four months to get ready.
Slebonick’s workouts include plenty of bag work, strength and conditioning exercises, and honing his boxing technique. Part of the regimen is jumping rope, which accustoms boxers to being on their toes and helps them develop a smooth rhythm.
Slebonick will begin sparring with other boxers in August.
“I have really enjoyed the completely new challenge of learning a new sport in such a short amount of time,” he said. “I have always been involved in athletics, so I was hopeful I would be a quick learner, but it is definitely a challenge.”
Gearing up for a boxing match is a far cry from the training Slebonick underwent at the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy.
“The current self-defense training at the academy is mostly focused on grappling and controlling people through different holds and techniques,” he said. “Whereas boxing is a pure combat sport.”
A lifelong Virginia resident, Slebonick grew up in Stafford and attended Old Dominion University before moving to Northern Virginia to join the Vienna Police Department in 2013.
“I wanted a job that had an element of surprise every day and something that always kept me on my toes,” he said. “Vienna was a department I applied to randomly, but once I got hired I realized it was a great group of people to work alongside with and a great community to serve.”
Slebonick holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and sociology and a master’s in public administration from Old Dominion University, the latter obtained while serving with the Vienna police.
In 2017, then-Officer Slebonick and Master Police Officer Neil Patrick Shaw received Bronze Medals of Valor at the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 39th Annual Valor Awards for their actions in dealing with a suicidal woman.
Slebonick also was among Vienna police officers who participated in the 2015 World Police and Fire Games, which took place in Fairfax County. His sports were flag football and basketball, and the latter team won a gold medal.
Master Police Officer Juan Vazquez in a Facebook post said Slebonick probably is the department’s fittest officer and routinely encourages co-workers to eat healthfully, exercise and take part in sports.
“He is always respectful, super-polite and extremely positive,” Vazquez said. “I have always enjoyed every interaction or call I had gone [on] with him when we were in the same squad because of his positive demeanor and attitude.”
Slebonick, who has represented the department on the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force, is “just a great guy,” said Vienna Police Chief James Morris.
“He’s a really mature, great officer and supervisor,” Morris said. “I refer to officers like him as the future of the department. He has such common sense and great way of handling himself and supervising other officers.”
Slebonick also underwent 40 hours of training to become a member of the department’s new peer-support team, in which specially trained officers support others who are going through trying times, either professionally or off-duty, Morris said.
The police chief said he hoped to be able to assemble a group to watch Slebonick’s boxing match, which he described as a worthy cause.
“I’m very proud of him for taking the lead,” Morris said. “It’s a very solid thing for him to be doing. I just think it’s fantastic.”
Recent CT scans and bloodwork have found no cancer in Slebonick’s body. He has not had to undergo radiation or other forms of follow-up therapy, although that is a possibility.
“My health is good,” he said. “I’m as good as new, pretty much.”