Local church dreams of boxing classes…and they came. A story about faith, hard work and bright futures.
|July 11, 2012||Posted by Bob Bartel under Chamber of Commerce, Community, Organizations, Religion, Sports, Top Stories|
One never knows where life’s path will take them; or who they might share that path with. Recently, a lot of paths have been crossing at Fellowship of the Nations (FOTN), a church on Woodforest Boulevard near Uvalde that has opened a gym to teach boxing and martial arts to local families.
While boxing is just one of the church’s outreach programs under the “Sports for Christ International” ministries according to Pastor Johnny Brady, or “Pastor Johnny” as he is often referred to, it has reached special recognition lately for one its members. Marlen Esparza, who has been training there since October of 2011 will be competing as the first woman boxer ever in the upcoming 2012 Olympics in London.
Esparza, who will turn 23 while attending opening ceremonies in London, has already been boxing for eleven years, and received recognition for her accomplishment in winning the last six consecutive National Championships. Dr. Charles Grant, president of the North Channel Area Chamber of Commerce (NCACC) honored her with a proclamation at the chamber’s last luncheon.
In receiving the honor, Esparza said, “It’s not all me by myself. I have a team of people who do a lot for me, including my church, and I don’t put a lot of emphasis on me. I’ve done really well in the last three years, and I give all the glory to God and to Jesus Christ. That lifts a lot off of me and helps me perform better.”
Part of that team Esparza referred to at FOTN is her coach, Rudy Silva and “Fighter Nation” organizer, Termite Watkins. Watkins was an Olympic boxer in his teens, and achieved wide recognition as a professional boxer. In 2003, he organized and coached the Iraqi Olympic boxing team, which became the inspiration for the book and movie, “Termite.”
These paths are crossing at FOTN because of the lifelong friendship between Pastor Johnny and Watkins. The two have known each other since they were three years old and went to school together. By Watkins recollection, it was Johnny who often got him into trouble, but Brady contends it was just the opposite way—he was the one who rescued Maurice, as he was known back then. As adults, their paths would separate at times, but the friendship remained constant.
Johnny had grown up the son of John Brady, long time pastor of Woodforest Baptist Church. He had been building a church of his own from 2000 to 2008, but the church didn’t have a permanent home. Three weeks before Hurricane Ike struck, he realized a dream. His father was thinking about retirement, so Johnny’s church bought the facilities at Woodforest Baptist Church and combined congregations. Even though the church sustained over one and a half million dollars in damage from the hurricane, it grew back stronger than ever, with a new wing that Johnny thought would be perfect for a gym.
Pastor Johnny approached his friend, Termite to lead a boxing ministry. The timing wasn’t right at first, but in the fall of 2011, that ministry became Fighter Nation. The timing was also right for Esparza and Silva. Their gym in Southeast Houston was just closing down, and they were looking for a home. One could say it was a match made in heaven, and maybe it was, because the program is now helping more than 50 local children find the discipline of the sport, the talent of its trainers and mentors, and the spiritual guidance and love of church members like Diana Cromeans who helps make the program work.
Termite refers to Cromeans as “The backbone behind Fighter Nation.” She has become the “boxing mom” not only to her own son, but all the children who take classes there. “I saw a need there, and decided to help,” Cromeans explained. “It’s an amazing ministry. It’s all about listening.” She comes to the gym every day after work to interact with the kids and their parents, many of whom bring personal problems that need an empathetic ear.
The kids come for the boxing, and the facilities are good, or as boxer Jose Renteria exclaims, “It’s beyond any boxer’s dreams to get this kind of exposure with other boxers in a place like this!” Pasadena police officer William Palmer agrees, “It’s the next big thing.” But what Termite and Pastor Johnny are striving for goes much farther.
Termite and Diana greet students with a hug at the door, and Termite starts each session off with a prayer. Then he takes prayer requests from the kids. He divides the group into beginning and more advanced classes. His students, as they gain experience, become the teachers for those behind them. “That teaches them responsibility as well as discipline,” he said.
During the workout session, the coaches are continually giving encouragement, and there is no doubt that Esparza’s presence has been an inspiration to all. About a third of the participants are girls, and they range in age from about six to adult. Carmen Garza (18) agrees with sisters Kaylynn (9) and Yasmine (13) that they all look up to Esparza, and enjoy the friendships they have made at FOTN.
It is especially touching to watch Termite work out with Ryan Salinas, a seventeen year old who struggles to walk with Cerebral Palsy, but “loves to punch.” Watching carefully for an errant left hook as he spars with Salinas, Termite slowly backs away, forcing the teen to move forward without the aid of his crutches.
At 38, Silva has been in boxing for over 20 years. In addition to his work with Esparza, he has also coached his 13 year old son to a national championship. He credits Esparza’s determination and hard work for her boxing success. He said, “She likes the challenge. She embraces it. I’ve never seen a work-ethic like hers. When I first met her, I put her in groups with some guys trying to make her give up. Instead, she stuck with it and some of the guys quit instead of her. I’ve been around some of the best male and female boxers in the business, but her work ethic is so far above that of anyone I’ve ever been around. That’s why she’s so successful.”
Silva continued, “In London, the work will be all mental for Marlen. She just needs to stay focused on all the hard work she has put in to get there, and on her opponents.”
Focus does not seem to be a problem for Marlen Esparza. She was high school class president, graduated in the top two percent of her senior class and ran track all the while competing around the country in boxing. When she returns to the U.S.A. after the Olympics, she will hang up her boxing gloves and concentrate again on school. She plans on going to medical school and becoming an anesthesiologist…learning again how to knock people out!
In addition to children’s and adult boxing, FOTN also has classes in boxercize and mixed martial arts (MMA) including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and kickboxing. Classes are $35/month for children and $50 for adults, but “no one is turned away if they can’t afford it,” Termite said. The program is always looking for sponsors he added.
Contact Termite Watkins at 832-212-4274 or Diana Cromeans at 713-637-7500 for more information or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.