20th Street Gym boxing program is on the ropes

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Coach Robert Baca.
I have been boxing at the 20th Street Recreation Center -- Denver's oldest public recreational facility -- for more than four years. And while the boxing fitness class is a relatively new addition, 20th Street has also been home to a legendary competitive boxing program for over seventy years, one that has attracted everyone from Sonny Liston to Mike Alvarado to young contender Shon Mondragon. But as I describe in the current Westword cover story, "On the Ropes," that era may be ending.

I go to 20th Street because I get great instruction and workouts there. I also get to soak up a lot of history at this century-old building on the edge of downtown. But when 20th Street reopened earlier this month after a few weeks of renovation, the banners and photos of 20th Street's boxing stars were no longer hanging by the second-floor gym. And I heard from my boxing coach that Robert Baca, who's run the competitive program for almost a decade, might be knocked out of the ring, as the city restructures some of its Denver Department of Parks and Recreation programming.

I'd never met Coach Baca, but it sounded like a story. So I went to see him at the Golden Gloves Gym in Wheat Ridge, where he started training the 20th Street team during the renovations. The team isn't back at 20th Street yet; as I report in "On the Ropes," Baca is now negotiating with Parks and Rec officials, who want to change the boxing program he's run for almost a decade. Among other things, he wants to be sure the program remains affordable -- in essence, free -- for the kids who rely on it.

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Photo by Anthony Camera
The members of the Mondragon family -- Shon Sr., Ariel, Shon Jr. and Cassandra -- have boxing in their blood.
The 20th Street boxing program is on the ropes because the city has been reassessing the legal status of its offerings, but also which offers are popular with whom. And apparently, people like me are a priority. Fitness in Colorado is a huge industry; Parks and Rec wants to tailor more programs to adults who like to work out. But the city's unique, seven-decade old boxing program could pay the price.

In addition to boxing at 20th Street twice a week, I work out six times a week at various 24Hour Fitness locations. For several years, I also did yoga daily -- which I couldn't afford. So like many people I know, I was part of a chain yoga studio's cleaning program, cleaning a fitness facility top-to-bottom four hours a week in exchange for free yoga. I don't have much money to spend on my own fitness activities, but I have always found a way to make it happen.

But boxing at 20th Street -- even in one of the non-competitive fitness classes I take -- is like no other workout I've ever done. And it's no BS: The instructors are there to train you as if you were going to fight. I like the feeling of getting a really tough workout that is also mentally stimulating. Each 75-minute session focuses on strength training and fighting techniques -- if we're not jumping rope and hitting the speed bags or practicing throwing hooks and upper cuts, we're doing sit-ups and push-ups. It's not a class for wimps.

Continue for more about the 20th Street Gym boxing program.


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20th Street Recreation Center

1011 20th St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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