MMA fighter no longer headed down a destructive path

Brayan Almengor, 14, is a blur of motion as he works out with his instructor Tom Bolger at the 8th Street Gym. Brayan has turned his life around by taking up mixed martial arts at the gym.

Brayan Almengor was headed down a destructive path. He knew it.

The 14-year-old Grand Junction boy was struggling in school only one year ago, talking back to the teachers, getting in trouble.

Worse, he had joined a local gang.

He wouldn’t tell his mother where he was going at night. He was talking back to her, too.

After only four months in the gang, he realized it wasn’t giving him the positive reinforcement he craved.

“I didn’t like how they acted,” Almengor said. “They would party. They wanted me to get in trouble.”

Fighting was part of his lifestyle, especially since he was being bullied by older peers.

“I thought if I got better at fighting, people wouldn’t pick on me,” he said. “I wouldn’t fight as much.”

Ironically, it took getting better at his fighting skills to learn to best avoid a fight.

At the urging of a friend, Almengor began training in mixed martial arts at 8th Street Gym.

In two short months, it’s changed his life.

The first couple of weeks were difficult. The discipline that 8th Street Gym owner Tom Bolger requires from his students was something Almengor wasn’t used to accepting.

“The conditioning was hard,” Almengor siad. “I’d get out of breath.”

Bolger knew Almengor came after being coaxed by his friend, who had also experienced the gang lifestyle.

“He seemed like a nicer version of his friend,” Bolger said.

But Bolger quickly recognized the potential Almengor possessed.

“Everybody talks about how fast he is. Everybody talks about how athletic he is,” Bolger said. “He looks good and he’s only been at it for two months.”

The gym gives Almengor something productive to do after school.

“It’s exciting coming here,” he said. “Every time you come here, you learn something new.”

The discipline also has brought about a peace Almengor hadn’t known.

“I feel happier,” he said. “When I go home, I don’t talk back to my mom any more.”

He’s also shown a different determination at school. The freshman at Grand Junction High School is now taking his studies more seriously. He’s paying attention in class and he’s not talking back to his teachers.

That’s made his father happy, so much so that his he agreed to pay Almengor’s monthly fee at the gym, as long as his grades are good and he stays out of trouble.

Almengor has learned how to vent his frustrations in a more appropriate manner.

“If I get mad at school, I come to the gym and hit (heavy) bags. It makes me feel better,” he said.

It also has taught him to avoid conflict whenever possible.

“When people talk (trash), I walk away,” he said.

Almengor epitomizes why Bolger opened the gym.

“Everybody has their own reason for coming to the gym,” said Bolger, who’s seen his gym grow from five people to 200 in the three years since he opened it.

But he gets the most satisfaction from seeing the positive changes it makes in his younger students.

“It’s more rewarding to change (Almengor’s) life than somebody twice his age,” Bolger said.


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