Lisbon, Portugal – Inside the Antonio Ramalho Boxing Spirit Gym, located in Outurala’s social accommodation in the Lisbon suburbs, 7 p.m.
Inside the long dark corridor in the basement of the local sports center, one can already hear the swaying of the punching bags and the gloves hitting their strength.
“You three go running with Wilson,” says a commanding voice.
“Welcome,” says the same voice.
It is the voice of coach Antonio Ramalho, also known as Mestre, the founder of Zest.
A timer is ringing on the wall. Break time. Pictures of bouts, athletes and special moments around the timer.
In the gym, people from all walks of life have gathered – engineers, lawyers, architects, nurses, police, students, ex-prisoners.
“From the time when someone walks through that door, the only thing that matters is if they have good character,” Ramalho said.
As the timer beeps again, a group of young people start shadow boxes. One of them is Wilson Semedo, who came to Portugal from Cape Verde in 2012 at the age of 13.
Semedo left school and joined the gym in 2016. Despite being in Portugal for four years, he only spoke Creolu and was having trouble adjusting to his new life.
“I was not an easy kid. I had an explosive mood and I was chatting with friends who just did bad things, “Semedo said.” At the age of 15, all I was doing was going out and drinking. “
But he said Ramalho’s discipline and attentive eyes changed his life.
Ramalho said everyone left him.
“She was barbaric, wild, with no purpose in life… it was hard for me at first. He told me he wanted to compete so I started setting some goals besides boxing: be more polite and go back to study or work.
With boxing taking up most of his time, Semedo leaves bad company and nightlife. He started training every day সকাল morning and afternoon পান and got a part-time job.
After a lot of sweating and brawling sessions with older athletes at the gym, Wilson set foot inside the ring. His extraordinary performance in the amateur tournament in Portugal caught the attention of the Cape Verdean Boxing Federation and in 2018 boxing took him to his home country to compete.
He represented his country at the 2019 African Games but was unable to qualify for the Olympics.
Unelected, Semedo vowed to continue.
“Boxing has given me everything. It has helped me not to fight on the streets and to respect others, ”he said.
“It feels like I was born for boxing. It gave me discipline, concentration and attention. ”
As his technique and dedication improved, Ramalho entrusted him with the task of teaching boxing to youngsters.
Kevin Sanchez from Cape Verde, Semido arrived a year later.
Both parents came to Portugal to see a job and “a better life”.
Inspired by a boxing-themed anime, Sanchez began training at the gym in 2018 at the age of 14.
“I wasn’t really good at school because I didn’t feel inspired,” Sanchez said.
“But I’m smart in boxing. I helped newcomers after my training and I realized that I was also evolving. So I started thinking about becoming a boxing coach or a personal trainer.
‘Ready to Take a Risk’
Sanchez went on to take a professional course in sports at high school, and when it came time for the internship, Ramalho invited him to teach the kids boxing.
After each training session, Sanchez collects food for his family from a social organization that helps families in the neighborhood.
“My mother woke up at half past one in the morning. He does two things. My father worked on the ship. I don’t want anything from her that isn’t really necessary because she always complains of body pain. He bought some boxing equipment so I could practice at home. He’s glad that I’m finally concentrating on something instead of my phone. ”
Both young men are aware of the changes in their lives to Ramalho, who was born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Lisbon.
He began to train children by chance. After 12 years as a professional boxer, he opened his first gym in 1988 in a small room above a restaurant.
“The first day, there were only children present,” Ramalho said.
“None of them are old enough to box. The first child I trained had a T-shirt under his feet. He didn’t even weigh enough for boxing. ”
He decided to work with what he got.
Twelve years later, at the 2000 European Cadet Boxing Championships in Greece, two of the six young boxers representing Portugal were from his gym.
For the next five years, those two, following the others, won “whatever it takes” to win, he said.
A club no one knew about was part of Portuguese boxing history.
“At that time, there were many clubs in Portugal but they did not compete abroad. I was a young coach, I wanted more and I was willing to take risks. I would take my athletes to competitions in Spain because I had been in contact with them since I was a boxer.
‘Importance to the community’
Ramalho moved to the basement of the sports center in 2007, the municipality gave him a room in appreciation of the work he had done.
The room became very small due to the participation of many people. He now has four rooms in addition to the outdoor training space he is using due to the coronavirus epidemic.
“I present new projects to the company that manages the site and they have helped me a lot and given me more homes because they understand the importance to the community,” he said.
In the administrative room, prizes and medals cover the walls, shelves and tables.
Last year, Ramalho was nominated Sports Ethics Ambassador by the National Plan of Ethics in Sports and Heroes of Humanity by the World Boxing Council (WBC) for his social work.
But his most impressive achievement is the study center.
Opened in 2015, the center has a computer, a library and a snack corner. Volunteers help children prepare for homework and exams.
Ramalho recently joined the EU program Erasmus + and has partnered with two similar organizations in Romania and Italy to organize cultural exchanges and increase education and employment opportunities for its young athletes.
She wants to open an art room now.
“Over time, I realized that boxing is a powerful tool to attract these kids but it may not give them continuity. That’s why we combine boxing with education and employment opportunities. The goal is to use sports, which is a powerful tool to build people, but we also need to open doors for them for other things.
When Salvador Carizosa moved from rugby to boxing at the age of 11, he later realized, the latter “teaches self-control, sacrifice and courage”.
“Not the courage to challenge others but to face my own fears and difficulties.”
He has just finished high school and wants to work in the stock market.
“It’s flexible work so I can combine it with boxing. And even if I can’t do professional boxing, I’ll stay connected to the gym.
“It doesn’t matter if you are Floyd Mayweather or a newcomer, everyone is equally respected. And he who knows more helps others. And that other will probably do the same. It goes out of the gym. That’s what makes this place so special. “
Ramalho’s trainees all agree on two things: boxing made them less aggressive outside the ring, and Ramalho was like a second father.
“I came to boxing after my grandfather died, who was like my father,” Carizosa said.
“Mestre was continuing his work by showing how to be a respectable man. He helped me recover from my loss, get back on track, and help my family. What I learn with the boxing family, I take to my mother and sister’s house. He is shaping me for the rest of my life. ”
‘I have already won’
Miriam Silva, who lives near the gym, started boxing when she was eight years old but was left to try other sports. But in 2018, he came back.
“I’m back because I love this game and I feel very good here,” Silva said.
“I thought I was a girl, I couldn’t go so far from the boys. That’s what a lot of people outside the gym say. But this is not true. Mestre inspires me a lot. Sometimes he sits next to me and tells me what I can do better. All the inspirational posts he shares on Jim’s social media, he told me to keep them in my head and don’t forget. ”
At the age of 17, Silva not only competes in the ring, but also teaches boxing to young children like Semendo and Sanchez. And receive an allowance for doing so.
Ramalho diminished his social and humanitarian outlook on the sport in order to lose the support of his coaches in his childhood.
“I started boxing when I was 13 years old. No one my age was allowed to compete but I was skilled so I was thrown to the wolves. I could have grown up differently in boxing but I was missing the support of my coach. He didn’t talk to me much.
“Now, when I sit down with my boxers and talk to them, I want someone to take care of me as much as I take care of these kids.”
Like any boxing club, boxing is very important for a coach to compete and win but, he said, “Right now, if I have a kid who likes to be here, who trains with dedication and likes to help others, I already I have won. ”