WATCH: Garland boxing gym creates a new outlook for young athletes
The Garland Police Boxing Gym youth program began as an effort to redirect gang-affiliated youth. Now, it has become the fourth-largest boxing program in the country. They recently announced a partnership to provide nutritious meals to over 150 kids in the free after-school program.
The boxing gym started out as a 13x13 ring in an office space shared with a school and the City of Garland back in 1995.
Retired Police Lt. David Swavey, founder of Guns and Hoses and the Garland Police Boxing Gym, previously lead a controversial gang unit at the Garland Police Department in 1993 and was looking for alternatives to gang violence.
“The focus was to get kids off the street, out of gangs, and then graduate,” Lt. Swavey said. “That was really the intent.”
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Thirty years ago, Lt. Swavey never imagined that his tiny gym would turn into a fully remodeled space offering around 150 kids from low-income families a space to not only box, but to also create healthy habits around food, education and exercise.
Alex Espinosa, 18, has been boxing at the Garland Police Boxing Gym since he was eight years old.
“My favorite thing about this gym will probably be that no matter how good of a fighter they are, [the students] come here and when they leave, they go do something useful with the world,” Espinosa said. “They become doctors or engineers…It’s just awesome.”
Recently, the boxing gym entered an ongoing partnership with ICON Meals, a Dallas-based food delivery service, to feed nutritious meals for the student athletes. Over 300 meals have been donated so far, Lt. Swavey said.
“What I appreciate about Icon coming forward is, I don't know where these kids come from,” he said. “I get kids coming in here every day that are lacking nourishment. And what this does is help me provide specific children what I can do to help them out.”
The city-funded program encourages children to also work towards getting decent grades and offers them a tutor, a lab space with computers and a report card check every six weeks to participate in the program.
“I’m really smart, but I just don't like homework,” Espinosa, the Garland High School senior, said. “This gym has always put it in me that if I don't have good grades, then I can’t box. So, I end up doing it anyways, which is something that has helped me along the way.”
The gym, currently located at 101 Ninth Street in downtown Garland, is within walking distance of a middle school where many children come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“You want to teach a kid not to bully, teach a kid how to box,” Lt. Swavey said. “It's the most disciplined sport in the world, bar none.”
When CEO of Icon meals Todd Abrams walked through the space for the first time and saw the kids come into gym, joking around, and trying different exercises, he was blown away.
"I just love seeing the community itself, where they have a safe haven,” Abrams said. “Maybe everything's crazy in their life but here, it’s a home away from home.”
Although Espinosa is now training for national-level competitions and is hoping to compete in the Olympics for boxing, Espinosa is proof that the Garland gym will always be home.
“I'm closer to people here than people at school sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes closer than my own actual family. You know, we spend Christmases with each other, New Years with each other...” he trails off. “It’s crazy. The friendships I have built here are beautiful,” he said.
Keren Carrión is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Keren at Kcarrion@kera.org. You can follow Keren on Instagram @kerencarrionphoto.