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It's All About the Kids

Learning the ropes at the Bend Boxing Club


South of Reed Market Road, on American Loop, sits a slice of Bend not many people visit. As I drove down the gravel street, I thought I had made a wrong turn and double-checked the address, but then suddenly noticed an area teeming with life. I knew I was in the right place.

Welcome to the Bend Boxing Club. Kids of all ages poured out into the parking lot and into the gym. Kids being kids, the chaos had a playful and enthusiastic energy. Some had ridden their bikes; others were dropped off by parents.

Rod Smith watching the action. - JOSHUA SAVAGE
  • Joshua Savage
  • Rod Smith watching the action.
Inside, first impressions were mostly what I expected—a large boxing ring, punching bags, jump ropes and such. What I wasn’t expecting were the numbers: at least 20 kids or more, every one of them excited and engaged. Kids as young as eight were sparring with pads and headgear. Others were hitting bags, doing sit-ups, riding stationary bikes and lifting weights. Eighties music played in the background, though it was mostly drowned out by voices. Motivational quotes lined the walls.

With the obvious physique and demeanor of a boxer, Rod Smith, the owner, was prepping mouthpieces for would-be sparrers. He anxiously greeted me, but because he appeared busy, I made my rounds.

First, I met Urial, 22, who has been boxing with Smith since the inception of the club and now helps out at the gym. It’s a place for him to keep fit while sharing his skills. I approached a few other youths who were too shy to say much, plus they were very involved in what they were doing, so I decided to just watch.

First observation: not only boys were sparring at the gym.

Kyla, a freshman at Caldera High, had recently finished the swim season. After trying a few other traditional sports, she wanted something different, so she chose boxing. Then there was Hazel. Her dad drives her and her twin cousins all the way from Prineville to attend the boxing lessons. While I was there, I watched Hazel spar against two boys; she punished them both!

I noticed that even if leaving the ring misty-eyed or with a hurt ego, all competitors were friendly to one another afterwards. The gym gave off such a supportive vibe and the camaraderie was, frankly, astonishing.

Eventually, as things calmed down, I spoke with Smith. A long-time Oregonian, he graduated from Bend High, where he played football and wrestled. His boxing career began after he joined the Navy, but it wasn’t until a painful match that he really came to love the sport. The other fighter inspired him and showed him the true art of boxing.

Smith developed a passion and boxed for many years as a pro. Later, his passion shifted to teaching the “sweet science of boxing.” More than just punching, the sport teaches discipline, respect and confidence. It’s a positive way to channel energy and keep the mind and body fit.

“It’s all about the kids. They come here, learn so much, so quickly. You can see their progress, their confidence grow. I love it.” Rod Smith smiled as he watched two teens spar.

At the gym, boxers are divided into two groups: beginner and intermediate. Once they commit themselves to the gym and develop some skills, they can obtain a USA boxing passport, which allows them to compete. Last year, Bend Boxing Club members competed in Portland. “I was proud of them,” said Smith. “They did very well for their first time.”

Although Smith runs the show, he doesn’t run the nonprofit gym alone. Much of the equipment is donated. Volunteer coaches teach classes and parents also help. Veronica, a parent at the gym, runs the business side. From day one, she recognized the positive, electric atmosphere and now shares Rod Smith's vision to get more students, more gear, and most importantly, to establish a place where people feel welcome. What they are building is more than just a gym.

Running the gym has not been all fun and games, though. Since 2002, Smith has started locations in both Bend and Redmond, but unfortunately, Central Oregon rents are high and there are other challenges such as the pandemic. Yet, Rod Smith has not given up. Although they have been in their current industrial space for a little over a year, for the Bend Boxing Club to continue, the city requires the location to be rezoned. Although the landlord and the city have worked with Rod Smith and given him time to come up with the money, he is still responsible for the fees, which are expensive.

For this reason, Veronica helped set up a fundraising campaign and a GoFundMe page. The crew hopes the campaign, Bend‘s rapid growth and the soon-to-be homes in the area will bring in more students, more sponsors and raise the profile of the gym. As the evening ended (Bend Boxing Club closes at 8pm), a few older kids lingered. As they slowly dispersed, they fist-bumped Smith and promised to return. I could see the respect and admiration in their eyes, and after only one evening, he had earned my respect, as well. He’s a genuine guy making every effort to develop confidence and valuable skills in these kids; we need more Rod Smiths in the world.

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