Fighting for a life

The kids start to arrive, one or two at a time. Young kids, 15 to 18 years old. Some arrive in silence; others talk about the school, or about their work; or about the school and their work; or about girls and cars; about their dreams.

They respectfully greet the staff at the entrance and, as they cross the small hall, they are involved by a spartan decoration, anticipating the kind of ambience you will perceive long before the day is finished. There is the inevitable statue of José Marti, a small table with a chess game, just waiting for two opponents, and a first-aid box at one corner. Their eyes cannot avoid looking at the wall were they can see a few hanged pictures from famous fighters that started their professional life at these premises. These, along with the low wooded ceiling, both convey a certain sense of intimacy.

As they cross the door on the other end of the hall, they have to readjust their eyes to the intense blue sky that covers the internal open space where the boxing ring is located. Covered by a metal roof, the ring clearly dominates the space. The surrounding yellow walls are old and dirty. No fancy equipment on the walls. Nor shower facilities. Just the barely essential. Like the line of old tires, hanging from the wall at slightly different heights.

The space is quiet. You can hear the sounds from the street over the wall, while they prepare themselves. They dress what they can afford. Sometimes an old equipment, others just a pair of shorts made from a pair of old blue jeans.

Boxing tradition in Cuba is a long one. One of the things that make this sport so special in Cuba is the lack of professional boxing. All professional sports were banned with the revolution. And as such, boxing does not promise high salaries nor a sumptuous house or the last flaming car. But in the Olympic Games, Cuban boxers can bring more medals than all other countries together. Promising boxers are pitched early, thanks to an effective selective system, which starts in first grade schools.

Life is not easy in Cuba. Getting punched during the training sessions is like a coaching session for the real life outside the boxing school. And these kids apply themselves to the hard study. A one hour session each day. Sometimes two sessions per day. They sweat their souls out. They try to prove themselves and others that they are capable of something more in their life. On a country were opportunities for a better life are scarce as water on the desert, they literally fight for a better future.