From the outside, Rudy Moreno’s house on Vista looks like any other street he lives in.
But as you approach his back yard, you hear a thud. It’s the sound of gloves hitting punching bags, and it gets louder when you finally see the large tent that now takes up most of the yard.
Inside the tent you will find young and aspiring boxers.
The boxing program is part of a non-profit organization he started called HERO Inc – Helping Everyone Achieve Opportunity.
“I have a motto: “learn, develop and lead”. Each of these kids, they learn something, they become leaders and they teach others and then they grow from there,” said Rudy Moreno, president of the organization.
Moreno used to practice in a larger space, but last year the program was moved to make way for a new residence hall.
“We lost our big facility that we had north of Santa Fe. So we put our minds together … we put our money together because it was expensive, and we decided, ‘You know, we’ve got space in our backyard, why not build something here,'” he said.
HERO Inc. is about giving the youth a fighting chance. That’s why Moreno built a boxing gym in his own backyard.
“Physical activity helps you mentally and physically,” she said. “I don’t just want to create heroes in the ring, I want to create heroes outside the ring as well. That way, they become productive citizens.”
Moreno said boxing helped him stay out of trouble while growing up in Vista. He went into the Air Force and served for 20 years. After retiring, sports helped him recover from the effects of PTSD.
“Because of my 20 years of service and multiple deployments, and wartime situations and that experience … I suffered from PTSD, anxiety and depression. Except mostly, after retirement. I think because I’m no longer physically fit. I wasn’t active.”
After serving the nation, Moreno decided to serve the youth of his hometown through boxing through his organization.
The program serves children like Ulena Torres. “I think it helped me not get down on myself,” she said. “Just because I’m small doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.”
Torres is the only girl in the group. He’s won national titles and state championships and hopes to keep adding up.
“I want to at least make it to the Olympics, where I can win, and maybe even professionally,” he says.
Seventeen-year-old Franklin Garcia said boxing kept him from hanging out with the wrong crowd.
“There are other sports that kids can do more than just boxing,” he said. “I encourage children to play sports instead of being on the street … It’s good for your health.”
Boxing also inspired Garcia to join his school’s cross country team. He hopes to attend a four-year university and continue boxing.
“I want to go pro. That’s my dream. I work hard every day, I run, I work hard, I hit the gym. Cross country, then boxing and school,” he said. “I just hope to be a great person – to be one of the great fighters and the best.”
Victor Villagomez or “Tony Boy” is Moreno’s youngest opponent at 10 years old.
“(Boxing) helped me gain confidence and build strength in my mind and body,” she said.
Like other boxers, Tony Boy has big goals for himself.
“What I want to do is be a pro so I can have a career and be successful,” Tony Boy said.
“What makes me happy is to see their expression,” Moreno said. “When we go to a national tournament and we win … even a local tournament. Just seeing them win, they know that the hard work they put in in the gym is paying off.”
The boxing program in Moreno’s backyard is temporary. He hopes to get a bigger place with more sports and services for the community.
“Other sports, fitness, basketball, football. I would like my institution to have a learning resource center, a computer lab where kids can come and do their homework and then participate in an activity,” she said.
Until then, Moreno’s yard is open until sunset to help kids reach new opportunities.
“You always want to help that person so they can help the next person,” he said.
Bringing Boxing Home: The Vista Youth Boxing Organization is losing its location but finding a home