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Growing up in East Los Angeles, California, you always have to watch your back. You never want to mess with someone who might come up later and shoot you up. I’ve always tried to stay on the local gangsters good side. And my older brother Arturo has always kept me away from the gang life he’s in and the other gangs that run LA. Arturo is in the Mexican Mafia gang, and he is pretty high up in there. Though he can't help me with the bullies who pick on him at school. We live together with our mom at the corner of 38th and Crenshaw. My pops walked out on us while my mom was pregnant with me. If I ever find out where he is I’m gonna give him a piece of me for leaving my mom alone to raise two kids, and work two jobs as well.
I found a way to take my anger out on something. It was boxing, and my trainer was my old neighbor who I tried to steal a car from. It had started when I saw that he had a classic 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1. I instantly became obsessed with it. I had a perfect plan to steal it. I went to his garage at two in the morning, and picked the lock. When i opened it up there stood my neighbor, Mr. Saldana, with a rifle pointed in between my eyes. He then said,”What Do you think you’re doing young man, I will blow your brains out if you don’t tell me right now.”
“Please don’t kill me I was planning on taking your car, please don’t shoot I’ll do anything, just don’t shoot,” I said.
“Danny I’ve known you all of your life, you’re only sixteen years old, you have so much of life ahead of you. Don’t let it be ruined by things like these. I’ll tell you what, if you come train boxing for me. I won't tell your mom and I won’t call the police.”
“Ok, but, why do you want to teach boxing?”
“Cause, I see you come home from school with cuts, and bruises. I see that your clothes are torn and, how sad you look. The only thing I can assume is that you’re getting bullied at school. Is that right?”
“Yea, you’re right,” I said with a depressed look,” there are these two boys in a grade above of me, who make fun of me for being too skinny, and for not having nice clothes.”
“If you want to be able to stand up for yourself stop by at my gym, it's by the grocery store on Dennis and 27th.”
So that night I couldn’t sleep, the fact that I was gonna start fighting others got me scared. I was scared that I was gonna make a fool of myself. Finally I passed out around three in the morning and I didn’t have school because it was the weekend. So I ate a hefty breakfast, and I got on my bike and peddled for fifteen minutes to the gym. Once I got there I went through the front doors and was greeted by the voice of Mr. Saldana saying,”Danny Rodriguez drop and give me twenty, NOW!”
I quickly and quietly followed his orders. After I had finished with the pushups. Mr. Saldana gave me a sheet that gave me my workout. It said: 10 pull ups, 30 sit-ups, 10 burpees, 20 minutes of running, 20 minutes of jump rope, and 10 dips. I went up to Mr. Saldana and asked,”What about boxing training? Isn’t boxing the reason I came here for?”
“You need to be able to last the full time in the ring first. You need to build up your endurance and strength.”
So it took me over two hours to finish the workout that Mr. Saldana gave me. After only doing three pull ups I started struggling but I knew not to quit and not to give up, because if I gave up then that mentality would stay in my mind and I would never get better or stronger.
Three months had gone by and I had started to notice the changes form the workout that Mr. Saldana had given me. I noticed that my upper body muscles had gotten more defined and it was easier for me to do pull ups, push ups, and dips. Finally Mr. Saldana told me I was ready to start doing some boxing training. He handed me some boxing gloves, a pair of hand wraps, and a pair of boxing shoes. He then told me,”Go over to the heavy bags, and start hitting it.”
“Ok, but how do I hit it?”
“There are four types of punches. The first type of punch is called a one. It is a jab where you extend your non dominant arm, and barely touch the bag. It is used to measure the opponents distance from you. The second type of punch is called a two, this is a straight hit with your dominant hand. You have to use all the power in your upper and lower body. The third type of punch is called a three, this is a hook punch. You can use either arm, and you bend your arm. Then you twist your arm and use the momentum to hit the opponent. The fourth and final type of punch is a uppercut.this punch is called a four, where your use either arm to basically jump through your punch, and is the most effective type of punch. This is the beauty of boxing the strategy of using these punches in different types of combinations.”
So I tried and tried for the next three months on working on different types of combinations of punches. Mr. Saldana also made me hit a double-ended bag, and he also made me train on a speed bag. After I had learned how to do these Mr. Saldana thought I was ready to fight my first boxing match. He told me it was this kid from LA who was around my age. I gave no thought to my opponent, and he told me that the fight was gonna be tomorrow.
That day I went home so excited to tell my mom about my fight. I ran inside and noticed that my mom was sobbing on the table. I curiously asked,”What happened mom?”
She responded,”It’s about your brother, he was shot and killed in a drive by shooting.”
“What do you mean? Arturo is dead? This can’t be happening, he was supposed to come and watch me fight on Saturday.”
“Listen to me son, Arturo would’ve wanted you to prosper out of this neighborhood. To become someone who actually matters in this world.”
That night I cried myself to sleep. I thought in my head that I was gonna dedicate tomorrow’s fight to Arturo, who would be watching from above, cheering me on.
I was getting ready for the fight, Mr. Saldana was wrapping up my fists, and putting on my gloves. As I was walking up to the ring I saw that my opponent was one of the guys who bullied me at school. As we stepped into the ring he came up to me and said,”Well,well, well I’m gonna beat you up just like I do at school.”
I replied,”Well see about that.”
We each got into our corners and Mr. Saldana said to me,”Alright, I know that he is one of the bullies who beats you up, but now is your chance to get back at him.”
The first round bell sounded and everything from there a blur. Eleven rounds had gone by and we had each put up a good fight, but I knew that I had to end him this last round. The bell rang and we went at it one last round. He struck first with a jab, but I dodged it and he threw more combinations. He landed some of them but i ducked down and threw the most effective punch out there, a uppercut, it hit him right under the jaw and his body went limp, and fell to the ground. I fell to the ground crying knowing that Arturo had helped win, and knowing that he was watching from above.