Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Through God and boxing all dreams are possible

Through God and boxing all dreams are possible. That's the message I got after interviewing boxing trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez (Pictured @ left working with a young pupil). Talk with this guy for a few minutes and you start to receive all this positive energy that infuses from him. However, after talking to him for more than a few minutes, I quickly found out life wasn't always so positive.

While today at 43 years old, Rodriguez is living his dream of being a professional boxing trainer inside his own gym, he openly admits if it wasn't for God he wouldn't be where he's at today. A native of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, he started training in boxing at the age of 12. Training in the sport and being at the gym came natural to him for two reasons. One, he had family members who were and currently are involved in the sport and two was that fighting, whether in the gym or the streets, is all he enjoyed doing. "I never liked school; when I went to school I would get into fights, thus I never finished," he said.

A dropout right after middle school, his education came from the gym where he trained religiously till he was 18. It was at that point that he ended up moving to Bethlehem, PA. However, when he got here it was the lure of the streets and not the gym that attracted him. Admittedly caught up in the drug scene he said, "I was caught up in the street life; luckily at the age of 21 God saved my life."

Not surprisingly, once he turned his life around he looked for refuge in the one place he felt comfortable, the boxing gym. Thus, he went to train at Larry Holmes Gym in Easton where he went off and on for about eight years. During that time he engaged in an estimated 21 amateur fights and even had offers to turn pro. However, other outside ventures such as working as a bodyguard and even falling back into the drug game seemed more lucrative to him at the time.

Yet, the gym and the sport always remained a constant in his life. He would always work with young perspective fighters, to the point that training and working with others came natural to him. It was while working as an assistant trainer at 'The Bethlehem Boxing Club' that he met a young kid named Ronald Cruz who wanted to become a boxer. Rodriguez told me, "When I first met him, I felt an immediate connection; but it wasn't on a boxing level. He showed me real respect and outside the gym he would contact me for advice and mentorship."

Upon getting to know the young fighter, he found out that the two of them had even more in common. They were both natives of Puerto Rico that had come to Bethlehem in their teens. They both had lost their older brothers and both were caught up in the drug game before boxing saved their lives. After awhile they even found out their birthdays were two days apart. So although Cruz's amateur and pro career began with the head trainer at the now defunct Bethlehem Boxing Club, it was inevitable that when Cruz decided he needed to go in another direction for his career, he looked no further and decided to call Rodriguez.

With Cruz currently sporting a (17-1) record, along with a WBC Continental Americas welterweight title and a couple of prime time showings on the NBC Sports Network, the pairing between the two seems to be working to perfection. Others also have begun to take notice the development Cruz has made under Rodriguez's tutelage. Thus, 'Indio' now has three other professionals in his stable in up and coming light welterweight Jerome Rodriguez (2-0-1), along with MMA fighters Scott Heckman (13-3) and Rick Nuno (1-0).

Some notables in both boxing and MMA have also acknowledged the work Rodriguez has been doing. With Cruz and now Jerome Rodriguez both sparring regularly in Philadelphia, noted trainer Nazim Richardson once told Rodriguez, "You're a great young trainer." More recently, world renowned Freddie Roach who has worked as a TV analyst at Cruz's last two fights told Rodriguez, "You're doing a great job." Roach was so impressed with both Rodriguez and Cruz that he extended an open invitation to come train at his 'Wild Card' gym in California.

The notoriety doesn't end there as Rodriguez has also worked with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, recently with former WBO light welterweight champion DeMarcus 'Chop Chop' Corley and this week will be traveling with his protege Jerome to Philadelphia to work with current WBC light welterweight champion Danny 'Swift' Garcia. Rodriguez says he has a good rapport with Garcia's father who is his head trainer.

With all this adulation coming his way, Rodriguez didn't forget where he came from. After a chance meeting with District Justice Elizabeth Romig where was asked if he and Cruz would consider speaking to young people in the community, he told Cruz, "It's time for us to give back." He took that opportunity when the late Stephen Godboldt, a former mentor and friend, asked him to do just that at the Northeast Ministry. "Steve asked if Ronald and I would come speak to the young people at his congregation and I readily accepted," he said.

However, it wasn't enough. Rodriguez had a dream of opening a non-profit gym in his community where he and Cruz could continue to work with kids and give them some of the opportunities they had been afforded. Dreaming is one thing, but the reality of finance is another. That is when God once again opened the door and a private benefactor not only agreed, but was willing to assist them in this endeavor.

With financial backing and influential people in his corner, Rodriguez then turned to a place he knew from his adolescence that he felt would be the perfect location for his gym; The Bethlehem Northeast Boys & Girls Club. He met with the club's Chief Professional Officer Gary Martell, explained his idea and Martell with an open gym space available said, "Let's give it a try and see how it goes."

Over four months later 'Ron & Indio's Gym' is flourishing with young kids and teens and according to the both of them, there are a few talented prospects they are developing and nearly ready to engage in amateur competition. A devoted husband and father with a daughter and two sons of his own, Rodriguez, proudly refers to his young students as "My kids."

He told me, "My dream now is for me to be able to develop and take one of these kids to the Olympics. I've worked with professional fighters, so I've accomplished that goal, but this would be a dream come true for me to see one of these kids make an Olympic team." I wouldn't bet against him because he's already shown more than once through God and boxing all dreams are possible.

Thanks to Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez for taking time out of his busy schedule to conduct this interview.

If you are interested in training at Ron & Indio's Gym, located at 1430 Fritz Drive/Bethlehem, PA, for children under 18 all you need is a Boys & Girls Club membership, which is $15.00 a year. If you are 18 and above, besides the membership there is a monthly fee of $40.00.

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