Practice hadn’t officially begun, but two of Ironfist Boxing’s big kids, a 14- and a 15-year-old, had cornered Aiden Montoya, age nine, in the upstairs gym of the YMCA in the Northern New Mexico town of Española. Nobody seemed overly concerned. Not Aiden’s dad, Andres, who was watching from the sidelines. Not coach Orlando Miera, a technician at Los Alamos and the founder of Ironfist Boxing, who was teaching an 11-year-old girl to jab in the corner of a ring he’d built with two-by-fours and bailing twine. Then the big kids took Aiden’s hands and showed him how to power up his punches by rotating his wrist. “It’s medicine for him, coming here—stress relief,” says the elder Montoya of Aiden. “He’s getting bullied at school, but when he comes here, he’s with family.” Building community with these kids is exactly why Miera teaches them to box. “They make bonds here,” he says.
Ironfist Boxing, an unofficial nonprofit that Miera has run in his hometown for 20 years, has become something of a pipeline through which kids come to jobs at the Lab, often taking one of the several thousand critically important skilled positions that don’t require advanced degrees. The nonprofit’s graduates, so far, work as guards; mechanics, like Aiden’s dad Andres; technicians, like Miera; or administrators, like Megan Espinoza. “Orlando, what he does is take these young kids and mentors them,” Espinoza says. “They learn skills for life.” She boxed with Ironfist when she was 16, two years before taking an administrator job in the Physics Division in 2014.
As much pride as Miera takes in watching his kids go on to accept positions at the Lab, the jobs aren’t the point. Good jobs are the byproduct of the discipline and work ethic he instills in them through boxing. Miera has been volunteering at the YMCA four days a week for the past 20 years to give at-risk kids a safe and healthy place to go in a city with a crime rate that is among the nation’s highest. Miera’s boxing camps are entirely free. All he asks of each kid who attends is that they treat each other with respect: that the big ones show the little ones, like Aiden, why kindness matters.
“Every kid here needs something,” says Mario Valerio, a teacher in Española’s middle school and the father of two teenage boys who box at Ironfist. “Orlando gives them courage, strength, inspiration, hope.”