Tyler Terrazas wants nothing more than to be a champion. He has been groomed for a national boxing title for the last five years. A rock star in his hardscrabble blue-collar neighborhood in Vallejo, Calif., he is by far the best boxer in his age and weight division in Northern California and finished third in the nation in 2004. Tyler is 12 years old.

When sanctioned as sport, boxing is compelling and brutal entertainment, and heroes embody masculinity in its most pure form. I want to examine this sport at its most beautiful and disturbing. What drives a champion to succeed in one of the world's most violent sports, when that champion is just 12 years old? What socioeconomic motivations are there? What is earned? And at what cost?

Tyler must literally starve himself to make weight when he steps on the scale before a competition. He has fought in the same 95-pound weight class for the last three years.

"It tore me up inside to see Tyler so thin and frail like that during last year's Silver Gloves Tournament," said Cerrene Terrazas, Tyler's Mom, "He didn't even look like Tyler anymore. But he had tried so hard to get to where he was."

I will follow Tyler throughout California through a series of tournaments he must win on his way to the 2005 Silver Gloves National Championships in February 2006 in Kansas City, where more than 500 8- to 15-year-olds will slug each other in the hopes of winning the coveted national title. From sparring matches and competitive tournaments, to birthday parties and Easter egg hunts, I will follow Tyler for the next year to gain insight into why some kids becomes champions at 12 years old.

An undeniable theme in my work so far is documenting human strength and what lengths people go to for survival and honor.

While working as a photographer for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia last summer, I photographed a stable of kickboxers from Phnom Penh's most poverty-stricken ghetto. I am submitting these photographs because, like the youth boxers I wish to document in the U.S., the Cambodian boxers are driven to fight by social and economic circumstance in the name of honor and survival.

I humbly strive to do what Dorothea Lange so masterfully did: humanize tragic consequence. While being drawn to document marginalized communities, I also attempt to capture the strength and wisdom that people from these communities gain from their unique upbringings.

— Timothy Wheeler