4 Thermal Boxing Club

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  • Angel, eleven years old. Thermal, Riverside County.

    In his first nine months of boxing, Angel won three belts, including the Junior Golden Gloves Championships for his age and weight.

  • Sebastian intends to be a world champion boxer. So does Florencio. Angel barely speaks, but when I ask if that’s his goal, too, he nods yes.

    The Thermal Boxing Club does not immediately look like an incubator for international talent. It’s housed in a former auto mechanic’s shop in this raw-edged desert town in the Coachella Valley. The space was donated to the club after their previous home, in a vacant date packing plant, burned down. In fact, everything they have is donated, mostly by local farming businesses. The club has yet to find anyone to offer an air conditioner, so when it gets into the 90s (at least half the year here) they simply open the garage doors and sweat it out. For training, kids run down Polk Street, alongside the municipal airport.

    But then material goods are not what make champions. Indeed, the former boxer who runs the club, Ralph Romero, contends that kids who have cushy lives with expensive sneakers and Nintendo don’t have the desire that breeds dedication. The kids here, though, coming from the poverty endemic to so many farm-worker families in the valley, are hungry to win. They won’t get a good education, Romero explains, so academic achievement won’t deliver them out of here; only physical ability might.

    One afternoon I followed Sebastian and Angel to a nearby boxing club to spar. The walls were lined with pictures of pro boxers, and as Sebastian waited for his time in the ring he pointed out posters of three brothers in their fighting poses. He said that all had trained here and then gone pro; one had been a world champion. “My uncle used to work in the fields with them,” he told me. Looking at the posters I thought of how when I asked to photograph Sebastian and the others they automatically assumed their fighting poses, staring down the lens as if it were an opponent. In that moment I realized that these boys are not just hungry, they are serious. When they tell me without blinking that they, too, intend to be world champions, they mean it.

  • Sebastian, eleven years old. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Florencio, nine years old. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Thermal Boxing Club. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Thermal Boxing Club. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Thermal Boxing Club. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Thermal Boxing Club. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Thermal Boxing Club. Thermal, Riverside County.

  • Sebastian sparring at Coachella Boxing Club. Coachella, Riverside County.

  • Waiting to spar at Coachella Boxing Club. Coachella, Riverside County.

  • Trainer José Pizarro and Angel. Thermal, Riverside County.