The way of the iron fist

Orlando Miera has donated his time to kids for 15 years, teaching them confidence and discipline through boxing

April 16, 2024

Orlando Miera with Iron Fist Boxing kids.

Every day it seemed, the elementary school called Orlando Miera to tell him, once again, that a few kids had picked on his 8-year-old son. The constant bullying had distracted Orlando's boy from his classroom work, but mostly Orlando noticed a change in his child's mood, as if all his son's joy had been robbed.

"I didn't want him to fight," Orlando says. "But the school was calling all the time, so I thought it would be good for him to learn how to defend himself."

Orlando Miera, founder of Iron Fist Boxing club, in his hometown of Española.

When Orlando was a teenager, he left his home in Española to spend part of the summers in Albuquerque with his older sibling. His brother had become interested in boxing and soon Orlando tried his own hand in the ring. "Boxing teaches you how to fight so that in the real world you don't have to fight," Orlando says.

He loved the sense of commitment and the feeling of accomplishment after he'd trained for hours, a puddle of sweat left behind on the mat. Perhaps this is what his son, Patrick, needed at this moment.

The father and son drove to a local boxing gym, where Orlando taught his boy how to block fists, how to move his feet to avoid a hit, and how, if forced, to throw a punch. They ran laps. They pummeled heavy bags. And they did lots and lots of pushups.

After several months of training, Patrick said he wanted to compete in matches. So along with the regular workout schedule, Orlando and his wife, Bridget Miera, drove their child to weekend bouts across the state. Soon Orlando noticed a change in his boy, first in the ring and later in school.

A club of their own

Orlando was raised in Española, so he knew the community well. After the success with his son, he noticed that many other young men and women in his city were in a similar position: kids who could use the added confidence that accompanied boxing, or kids who, like the bullies who'd picked on his son, were in need of commitment, discipline and a coach.

"It took off from there," Orlando says.

Fifteen years later, the Iron Fist Boxing club that Orlando founded has trained more than 350 kids in Española. While some students have landed professional boxing careers, many more have learned valuable life skills from "Coach," as Orlando is called around the city.

Nearly a dozen of these students have even gone on to work at Los Alamos National Lab.

A day at the gym

Orlando volunteers all of his time, and the Iron Fist Boxing class is free. They meet four times a week for training, with competitions on the weekend that can run all day long — weigh in at 8 a.m. and back-to-back fights that go well into the night.

Some back-of-the-napkin math puts Orlando's volunteer time in these 15 years well above 15,000 hours, and this is being conservative. As a quick reference, there are 8,700 hours in a year, meaning Orlando has dedicated close to two years — in collective hours — to helping the kids of Española.

Orlando Miera spars with a young boxer.

Orlando's days start with a drive up the hill to Los Alamos, where at 7 a.m. work begins. When employees park in a lot cleared of snow, that's because of people like Orlando in the Logistics Heavy Equipment Roads & Grounds group. When employees walk beside neatly manicured lawns in summer, that's Orlando. When an office needs furniture moved, walls painted, lights replaced, all the small things that make the Lab comfortable, that's because of people like Orlando.

"It's a lot, but it sure makes the day go by quickly," he says.

Work ends at 3:30 p.m., and Orlando catches half an hour of downtime at home. Then he's off to the Richard Lucero Recreation Center. Through the glass doors and down the hallway past the weightlifting gym, across the basketball court, through a gray door and up the stairs, Orlando plays music for the kids with an interval timer so they know to change workouts.

There are speed balls, an uppercut bag and five heavy bags suspended from the ceiling. One heavy bag hangs from a car tow strap.

"I paid for all the equipment the kids use," Orlando says one recent evening as the kids punched, ducked and circled the bags. Then he pointed to the boxing ring. "I made it myself," Orlando smiles. The ring was a small square framed with two-by-fours, padded turnbuckles and hardware store rope.

Eleven kids and one adult worked out on this night, each focused on their individual training. "Hey Coach, can I get some water?" one student asks. "Do you need water? Your shirt doesn't have enough sweat on it," Orlando jokes. "I'm kidding, go grab some water."

Three of Iron Fist's fighters hit the heavy bag at the Española-based club.

In the corner of the room, Audrey Tastan watched her son work out. When he started seventh grade, he, like Orlando's kid all those years ago, ran into bullies at school. The older kids would snatch his hat and hold it high above beyond his reach.

"He's shy and keeps to himself normally, so my husband thought this would be good for him," Audrey says. She was nervous at first, but when she saw Orlando's style she felt at ease. "If he hears one bad word from the kids, they're running and doing pushups. I was like, 'Okay, yeah, this is a place I want to take my son.'"

Practice that night finished, and each kid lined up. Orlando's wife was there. She always travels to the competitions, which can be all over New Mexico, in Colorado and in Texas, and she always cheers the loudest. Every student shook their hands, politely saying, "Thanks, Coach" or "see you soon, Coach" as they walked down the stairs.

"We try to make the gym feel like a second home," Orlando says.

Orlando Miera referees as two boxers spar.

The payback

The training is, of course, about boxing. But their time together in that room is about so much more.

"I talk to the kids all the time about the way life is," Orlando says. "If you're knocked down, get back up, because it's going to get tough. Life's not easy, but as long as you get up you'll be all right." That's why Orlando chose the motto "Winners never quit, and quitters never win" to place on the back of the club's shirts.

Orlando's son was able to focus more on his school without all the bullying. "The bullying stopped," Orlando says. "He could focus more on school and on his grades. His self-esteem improved." Patrick did better in school, and, like his father, he took up a trade job in construction. He now lives nearby with two children.

Orlando has since tried to spread this philosophy of discipline and confidence through boxing to the local juvenile probation office. He talked with some of the employees, and soon the office was sending kids to his workouts. Today he'll see them around town at their jobs. They'll thank him, tell him how he helped straighten their life out and how appreciative they are.

"A lot of people ask why I do this," Orlando says. "But I enjoy it. It doesn't feel like work. When you see the kids after they've grown up, or when you take the kids to a competition and after the match they jump up and get all excited, that's the payback."