Fighting for their Future

By Arlyssa Becenti
Chinle, New Mexico (AP) October 2011

Down a dirt road, hidden away behind trees in a near-decrepit building sits the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym in Chinle. Although the gym itself is more than 20 years old, it has been the training home of many Navajo boxing greats and it continues to coach young aspiring boxers.

Boxing coach John Bahe has seen it all and done it all when it comes to the sport of boxing. He is the third generation of his family to operate the gym that his grandfather first started in Fort Defiance before Bahe’s father brought it to Chinle.

The family-run gym has produced 60 boxing titles since it has opened. Its mission is to encourage the youth that through motivation and healthy lifestyle choices the sky’s the limit as to what they can accomplish.

“I run a DJ service and I see kids and I hear them say, `I can’t,”’ Bahe said. “Through boxing that isn’t true. The never-give-up attitude is what I try to push. Anyone who says `I can’t’ in this gym has to give me 25 push ups.”

The positive atmosphere of the boxing gym becomes even stronger when Bahe introduces his entire family. Bahe’s wife Elvina is an assistant coach and their four sons Jeremiah, Joshua, Isiah and James are there to practice with the rest of the boxing students.

“Our kids like it,” Elvina said. “They like that we bring them to practice and we work together with them.”

Family unity is obvious inside the gym and not with just the Bahe’s, but with the rest of the boxing class. Ila Brown is a mother of two and has been boxing for three months in order to get ready for her next triathlon, but it also gives her a chance to spend time with her 11-year-old daughter.

“I use boxing as a way to cross train,” Brown said. “This is really good for full body workout. I can do this with my daughter and she really enjoys it here.”

The students who come to the boxing practices are not charged for instructions. Funding the gym comes through donations, fundraising, sponsors and many times through the pockets of Bahe and his assistant coaches.

“We buy our equipment from the flea market,” Bahe said. “Students donate what they can and we are selling our own Damon-Bahe T-shirts. One of our major sponsors Darryl Dean Begay paid for our website pages.”

It’s Bahe’s expert coaching and dedication to his gym and students that keeps them coming back.

Terrin Yazzie, who is a part of the Blackwater Mixed Martial Arts Team of Chinle, came to Bahe to train him in order to become more proficient in mixed martial arts.

“John has spent a substantial amount of time with me,” Yazzie said. “He started by pointing out my flaws and helping me work on them. It helps a lot. Having the kids here is good motivation. I wish I had started that young, I would’ve been in a whole different level.”

Being that the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym has been around for two decades some students practice there not because they want to be competitive fighters or triathlon athletes, but many cherished memories were made behind those walls.

Alicia Draper, a 23-year-old model and college student who has been featured in the Women of the Navajo Calendar, is not just another pretty face. Draper practices at the Damon-Bahe gym because she is continuing what her father loved doing. After her father, boxer Preston Draper, passed away in 2008, Alicia decided to pick up the gloves.

“I decided to take on what he was doing,” Draper said. “It brings comfort to work out where my dad worked out. Boxing to me, its not to be the bigger person. To me there is so much more meaning behind it.”

Bahe is hoping to gain the funds needed to renovate the old gym for a new crop of boxing students. Bahe’s mother Judy Bahe, who also serves as a boxing judge, believes that the gym is needed to keep the youth on a positive path.

“We keep our kids straight,” Judy said. “No drugs or alcohol, they have to have good grades or no boxing. When we shut down because of the tree falling on the roof the kids would keep coming and wondering when we would open again.”

Donations may be sent to Damon-Bahe Boxing Club P.O. Box 1473 Chinle, Ariz. 86503.