ANDERSON, Ind. — Kathryn Womack wraps each of her hands with cloth tape, then pulls on a pair of boxing gloves. The woman sets her feet in a determined stance, raises her fists and focuses her eyes intently at Thomas Tijerina. She starts throwing punches.
“I love it,” says Womack. She’s talking about the hour-long high-energy fitness boxing workout that Tijerina makes available for free to the community.
Womack’s been boxing a couple of times a week since January. When she’s not punching some of the various bags that hang in the room, Womack throws jabs toward Tijerina, who coaches her, wearing focus mitts to provide targets for her punches.
Andry Rakotomalala, 23, works up a sweat as he throws repeated fast short punches at the speed bag. The international Anderson University student from Madagascar has been dropping in to Tijerina’s workouts since last summer.
“I love the workout. The workout is just really hard,” says Rakotomalala. He glances toward Tijerina. “He’s also really nice about it. He pushes, but at the same time he doesn’t kill you.”
Tijerina started out offering the boxing workouts at The Mercy House located in the former Shadeland Elementary School on the city’s west side. Now, the gym is housed at Park Place Community Center, 802 E. Fifth St., Anderson. The program is part of Tijerina’s nonprofit called EPIC Initiatives, an acronym for Empowered People Impacting Communities, which was established at the end of 2009.
Tijerina, 36, grew up in Defiance, Ohio, where he boxed for 10 years as part of a competition club. He snagged Golden Gloves champion titles twice, and competed on a national level. His home base was Defiance Athletic Club, where he learned the ropes free of charge while building precious relationships. It’s that model that inspired him.