By Katie Dahlstrom
As Jorge Landa Rodriguez absorbs jab after jab from his daughter, Ashley, while they train beside the riverfront, he’s thinking about more than helping the 15-year-old achieve her Olympic boxing dreams.
He’s thinking about all the children in Clinton without a means to reach their goals.
Jorge aims to open a gym that will help no- to low-income kids foster their athletic dreams. He started a non-profit called Against the Ropes and is half way to opening the doors of a Clinton facility.
“I wanted to see if I could build something that would make a difference in these kids’ lives. Right now there are so many kids out and about that don’t know what to do,” the 36-year-old Clinton resident said. “The structure, the discipline helps them in their lives. It teaches them responsibility. I want to be the one to make a difference in their lives.”
So far he’s raised about $10,000 and has another $10,000 to go before the gym dream can become a reality.
Gym membership will be tiered based on income level. While adult members would have 24-hour access to the facility, there would be set hours for children to train.
“If they want to do something else other than just train it doesn’t matter to me what sport they want to do as long as they want to do something that’s going to better their lives. If the funds are there, that’s what they’re there for,” Jorge said.
While the athletic center will be open to training for any kind of athletic event, Jorge is focused on boxing in particular. It’s a sport with deep roots in his family tradition.
“The earliest memory I have of my father, or one of my biggest memories, is watching the fights. He worked a lot, but when the fight was on, that was family time,” he said.
Jorge, his seven children and his wife decided to take up a contact sport together to give them time as a family.
After joining a gym and getting to know the other children training, Jorge noticed increased absences at the beginning of the month.
“The truth of the matter was that their parents couldn’t afford to pay for them to go. The money just wasn’t in the books. It was a really sad feeling that the kids couldn’t do what they wanted to do because of something as simple as money,” Jorge said.
Jorge won the American Family Insurance Dream Camp contest to foster his dream, but he gives credit for the win to Ashley.
The Clinton High sophomore is fighting for her dream to be an Olympic boxer. That fight includes a rigorous 14 hours of training a week at least. She’s been training for nearly two years and is slated to compete in international events.
“I love it. We were watching the Olympics and I said ‘Dad, I want to be there some day.’” she said.
As a result of winning the American Family Insurance contest, Jorge and Ashley traveled to Madison, Wis., to meet boxing coach Al Mitchell and Olympic boxing hopeful Mikaela Mayer. The visit inspired them, fueling their shared passion to open the gym and help other aspiring athletes.
“I want to pay it forward. When I learn something I want to teach other kids,” Ashley said.
They returned to Clinton with a renewed sense to help kids and families that feel they don’t have a place to turn.
“That’s exactly why we chose the name ‘Against the Ropes,’ because some of these kids feel like they’re backed into a corner and they don’t know how to get out. I don’t ever want anybody feeling like they’re against the ropes. We’re here to help,” he said.
Against the Ropes can be found on Facebook and donations can be made by visiting fundrazr.com and searching “Against the Ropes.” Jorge also plans to host fundraisers and sell merchandise to maintain the gym.