Photographers' Blog

Boxing their own worst enemy

April 7, 2011

On some of my first trips around Sao Paulo after moving here, I caught glimpses of life under the city’s many highway viaducts, whether it was of people storing recyclable waste or even living under the bridges. I refer to my roaming excursions in this city as “trips,” because this massive city of nearly 20 million inhabitants is a world in itself.

The shadow of aspiring boxer Laercio is projected on a wall as he uses a discarded truck axle for weight training at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

One day, as I gradually widened my geographic range and knowledge of my new city, I spotted people practicing sports under one bridge. It was a brief view but long enough to register in my mind. So when I read soon after about a boxing school under a viaduct and went to search it out, I realized immediately it was the same one I had spotted that day.

Aspiring boxers train at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct as cars drive past in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011.  REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Aspiring boxer Laercio (R) trains with his coach Mauricio Cruz at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Under the bridge I met former pro boxer Nilson Garrido, the founder and owner of the school. Six years ago Garrido started a project in which he created several boxing academies under the viaducts of Sao Paulo. His goal was to take the sport to the poor and marginalized population. In the meantime the project attracted other people who started to contribute a small monthly fee for the use of the gym.

Brazilian former pro boxer Nilson Garrido slugs a discarded truck tire with a baseball bat inside his boxing gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 15, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The Boxing Academies of Garrido adopt primitive training equipment that he developed himself during his years as a coach; plastic containers turned into punching bags, heavy rocks used for weightlifting and abdominal workouts, vehicle motor shafts for exercise bars, truck tires as weights for resistance training.

Aspiring boxer Chibata uses a truck shock absorber to strengthen his upper body during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Aspiring boxers (L-R) Chibata and Valdir Aparecido (nicknamed "Gorilla"), punch a discarded refrigerator during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Aspiring boxer Chibata uses a rock for abdominal exercises during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Today Garrido manages and lives in the academy under the Alcantara Machado viaduct, part of which receives donations of more modern sports equipment, and where they are developing other activities besides boxing, such as gymnastics, skating and biking. The ring is located under a section of the overpass that doubles as a parking lot.

Aspiring boxer Joilson Santos (nicknamed "Talent") uses a truck tire for muscle conditioning during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 16, 2011.  REUTERS/Nacho Doce

One day, as I sat ringside waiting for the arrival of present and future athletes, Gorilla and Talent appeared. Those are the nicknames of two normal, simple people who practically live there with their enormous desire to grow into boxers. As we got to talking they asked me if I knew of anyone who could treat them to “vitaminas,” a word that means vitamins but that they use to refer to the protein drinks commonly used by boxers and weight-lifters. I thought they were talking about fruit and vegetable juices, so I took them out to a nearby stand to drink one. That one juice quickly turned into a daily habit during their breaks from training. That was the perfect time for them to tell me about their personal lives, their children and the child support they were paying from their meager incomes.

Aspiring boxers (L-R) Joilson Santos (nicknamed "Talent"), and Valdir Aparecido (nicknamed "Gorilla"), use a rope during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The effort these athletes put in with the primitive training methods is fascinating. I could feel the fatigue resulting from their incredible effort, their sweating bodies, and their jolts of adrenaline. As the days passed it dawned on me that economically, these people were truly needy, and that they were lucky to have this place to practice sports and to be able to dream of becoming boxers.

Aspiring boxers (L-R) Chibata, Joilson Santos (nicknamed "Talent"), and Valdir Aparecido (nicknamed "Gorilla"), use discarded truck parts such as a shock absorber and axles to strengthen their upper bodies during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 28, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Others whose situation touched me were a student named Laercio and his trainer Mauricio. Laercio almost never spoke, but when Mauricio arrived they had long conversations before and during the session.

Aspiring boxer Laercio (R) trains with his coach Mauricio Cruz at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

One day I put my camera down ringside and spent the time listening to them carefully. Laercio arrived to train and Mauricio fired a question at him. “What is the greatest conquest?”

Laercio looked at him without responding, so Mauricio answered his own question. “The control of your emotions,” he said.

Laercio never stopped looking at his mentor, who continued the questions.

“Who is your greatest adversary?”

More silence.

“We, ourselves,” responded Mauricio. “Training is our best medicine. This is the present. The future is in our imagination.”

Silence again, and Mauricio said, “Start with the mirror and confront yourself first.” That’s when I realized that Mauricio’s phrases weren’t only about sport, but rather about training for life itself.

Aspiring boxer Laercio checks his boxing posture in a mirror during a training session at a gymnasium under the Alcantara Machado viaduct in the Mooca neighborhood of Sao Paulo, March 14, 2011. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

I looked at my camera lying on the side of the ring, and began to compare it to Mauricio’s mirror. I asked myself, “Do I use my camera to present my subjects, or to represent them?”

Comments
8 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Beautiful, respectful piece Mr. Doce. Your writing adds a very personal human layer to the photos and brings the story to life in an empathetic way. In my opinion with how you presented it, the boxers become not just stock subjects for viewers to gawk at or pity, but real people who focus immensely on what they can do to better themselves with whatever tools available. It’s not about famous trainers or top-of-the-line gym equipment, it’s determined resourcefulness.

On your end note, you make a crucial point that I believe many photographers can lose sight of in the midst of flashy colors and expensive equipment. Your images lend credence to your subjects and it speaks strongly.

Thank you for sharing your experience and stories.

Cheers,
Brittany Hannah

Posted by BrittanyHannah | Report as abusive
 

That’s a great story and it’s perfectly shot. I particularly like the shots of the ring from above, with the use of shadows and light – the shadow itself is part of the story, as it comes from the viaduct above.
Lucas
http://www.pictobank.com/

Posted by Photoluc | Report as abusive
 

This is excellent. So much for all the drama that people go through buying all kinds of expensive and fancy equipment. This boxer showed the way – your own will to achieve things no matter what the circumstances. Way to go viaduct boxers!

Posted by jsg | Report as abusive
 

Is there a limit to human spirit I wander. I found this story incredibly inspiring. The only thing that is missing is some kind of mechanism to help them get equipment they need through donation etc.

Posted by AnandaMayi | Report as abusive
 

Nacho,
I was waiting to see the final result and it’s amazing.
Loved the last photo.

Beijo
ElsaR :)

Posted by ElsaR | Report as abusive
 

Nice story, perfectly captured, great light, nice, very nice

Posted by granjapix | Report as abusive
 

great article, really shows the heart that goes into their sport, and the stuff we take for granted here (US). kudos

Posted by itsJumpship | Report as abusive
 

Authentic.I often think of you. Goddaughter.

Posted by mariavillamar | Report as abusive
 

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