Nestled within one of Old Havana’s crumbling neighborhoods, off the traditional turistas stroll, lies the “Rafael Trejo” Gimnasio al Aire Libre, an open air training facility for local boxing enthusiasts as well as the occasional foreign boxing junkets. Named after a revolutionary hero who was shot in 1936, it is not to be confused with the larger Kid Chocolate sports arena that is located across from the Capitol Building. The Rafael Trejo boxing gym is for young and not-so-young pugilists to learn and train for their country’s second favorite sport (surpassed only by Cuba’s well-documented passion for baseball). The Rafael Trejo gym is certainly not easy to find. Not only is it one of Havana’s best kept secrets, it is also difficult to locate even by the most seasoned taxi driver. Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo is located at Calle Cuba 815, Habana Vieja where a small government sign identifies the spot. When closed (most of the time it seems) the club is sealed up tight behind a nondescript white brick wall with only the ticket booth window hinting what potential excitement lies within. However, a knock on the wooden entrance door will usually yield an answer from the administrator within (not to be confused with the boxing commissioner) who can inform you when to come back to watch the athletes train or compete. The best time seems to be usually on Saturdays when the young champions-to-be are not in school. Frequently signs indicating upcoming events are taped to the door. Inside, snuggled between two three-story apartment buildings you’ll discover an open area with a single well-worn boxing ring in the middle of the courtyard. On the two opposite sides of the enclave lie modest bleachers for the spectators to sit and cheer. Overseeing the whole spectacle is a tiny office towering over the action in which are the judges and club managers who run the boxing card when the session is on. Down below young boxers wearing protective head gear and kidney belts fight with intensity as they try to earn valuable points to ascend the standings so that they may compete on a national level. Each sanctioned fight is refereed and timed professionally by dedicated officials. These people participating in the club, whether they be the fighters, trainers or their siblings or parents, all take the sport very seriously so if you do visit, it is best that to stay out of their way. We arrived bearing gifts of second hand jeans, t-shirts and running shoes outgrown by our families back home. The club manager who was going to distribute to the most needy of his membership received these with tears of joy. While there I snapped a number of pictures of the young lads in action. I was able to get in close, ringside, to get some winners. The determination and focus of those young boxers continues to inspire me when facing any of my own personal challenges. Box on amigos. Box on.
The Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym, Old Havana
By AJ Twist / Posted February 20, 2012
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based writer and photographer. He is a frequent traveller to Havana,Cuba as well as many other exotic urban destinations.
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