From the outside, an old garage on Hull Street might not make anyone think twice about what happens inside. But for the better part of the last decade, Omar Aleem has been using those unassuming surroundings to help change lives and create champions.
Aleem runs the 9th Dimension Sports Circle boxing gym, created after one of his sons wanted to learn to box. He now has two sons who have won championships, and understands when others come looking for a similar opportunity
"The parents come to me; Coach, my child needs this. I think he needs to be in the gym" Aleem said. "He has anger management problems. Can you help him? That's what I do."
"Boxing is a therapy. I'm trying to let the city see that, the nation see that."
Aleem teaches core values that not only help the athlete, but the person as a whole. Discipline, education, dedication and focus. Because a boxer who loses focus will have the same fate as a teenager with the same problem.
Ter'Ryan Rogers was just such a teenager. The Highland Park native has served jail time for robbery. He was running the streets, when by chance, someone changed his direction.
"One of the boxers that used to box here saw me running and said, Do you box? I'm like Nah. He brought me to the gym" Rogers said. "
The next day was history. Here I am, 2 years, 22 fights and on my way to the Olympic Trials."
"It's bigger than just boxing" Rogers continued. "It takes a lot of discipline to box which is what a lot of youth lack. If they can get tuned into boxing, not only can they become a better person inside the gym and inside the ring, but outside the ring and outside the gym."
Alongside Rogers is Damon Griggs who has been boxing since he was 8. For them, and many others, the gym has become a second home, someplace safe and welcoming regardless of their background or their history
"Some days I come here mad. Some days I come in happy" Griggs explained. "But when it's all said and done, when I train, I feel better. It's a relief."
"I don't go out to parties or that stuff because boxing is in the back of my mind. You can't do certain stuff when you box. You've gotta dedicate yourself to boxing."
Aleem and his wife do their best to provide the boxers with all the tools and equipment they need. There is a membership fee but Aleem can't bring himself to turn anyone away because they can't pay. It has put a drain on the family finances and their ability to continue their mission.
There is a GoFundMe account set up to help the gym with their expenses.
"These kids help me" Aleem said. "We survive. I can't turn them back even if they don't have the money. I try to work with them."
"Coach is doing it on his own" Griggs added. "He doesn't have anyone backing him up. He's paying the bills. They are doing what they can do to keep us training."
"I feel like he believes in me more than I believe in myself. He looks at you and sees what you could become."
"It doesn't have to be fighting or guns or gangs"Rogers said. "Boxing saved me, so I know it can do it for a lot of other kids."
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