It takes 10 years to build a boxer.
At least that is what Ruben Juarez says. As the director of La Colonia Youth Boxing Club, he should know.
For more than 30 years the gym in the Oxnard barrio has plucked youth from La Colonia's rough streets and pounded them into national and international champions like Olympic boxers Fernando Vargas and Carlos Martinez.
In a city wracked by gang violence, Vargas represents to many youths hope that there is a way off the streets. A self-described roughneck, Vargas has said boxing provided him a means to channel his youthful energies into more productive pursuits.
And that tradition is carried on proudly today.
So much so that even the gang members who troll La Colonia at night leave the gym free of graffiti. Out of respect.
Walk into the gym any afternoon between 4 and 8 p.m. and you can smell the sweat, hear the smack of gloves against bags, and the echo of boyish grunts bouncing off the gym walls.
Ruben says the gym is open to kids between the ages of 8 and 21--but most of his boxers are under 15.
"The guys who are 15, 16, 17--they come in and hit the bag and go home. They'd rather have a job and a girlfriend," he says. "They want to go to football games and school dances. The 15 and unders--that's where I take care of them."
Kids such as Beto Chavarin, 10, who just started and hasn't yet taken a swing in a competition fight, or Danny Zambrano, 11, who boxes five days a week and plays soccer on weekends.
Or Jacob Stephenson, 8, whose uncle ferries him down from Santa Paula to work the speed bag and hone his boxing skills. He just started a month ago.
"He's a tough kid," Juarez said. "He's like a little man. He's kind of rugged. He never says no."
But for now, Juarez can't predict who the next champion will be.
"Hopefully, all three of them will be champions," he said. "It takes 10 years to find out where you are in boxing. It's a life sport, you do it 24 hours a day. By the time they are 18, they are at the top, or getting to the top."
"It takes about 10--and then you know."