Frank Galarza is one of those young people whom boxing has served well. It's not a stretch to say boxing has been a lifesaver for Galarza, who grew up in Red Hook, and like so many youth, went off the righteous path, and drifted toward a dark place.
It didn't seem so dark at the time, back when as a teen, the now 28-year-old boxer was pursuing fast money and thrills through risky and sometimes illegal behavior.
"I was lost to the streets," said the 10-0-2 junior middleweight fighter, who battles for the New York State title on Sept. 21 at Resorts World Casino in Queens. "I didn't care about anything, I was with the wrong people. I dealt drugs, I did smoke weed, I was locked up a few times. I've been through all that. But boxing is and was a savior. It can be a violent sport, but it is also technical, and you have to be disciplined, and use your brain."
Galarza started sliding when his dad died from complications from a gunshot wound, and his mom died two years later, when Frank was 9, from a drug overdose.
He wants to introduce youth who are in danger of letting the streets swallow them up, and spit them into jail, or a coffin, to what boxing has done for him.
Galarza just got back from Rio, where he spent a week at the headquarters for Fight For Peace, a non-profit organization and program founded by Luke Dowdney, the CEO of Luta, a sports performance clothing brand.
Dowdney has sought to combine boxing and martial arts workouts along with education and personal development aimed at youth trying to find their way in areas where crime and violence are the norm. He's tapped Galarza as an ambassador, along with fellow pro Luis Collazo (33-5; age 32; from Queens), who will spread the word about Luta's message of positivity, which includes the structure and discipline boxing can impart. Galarza is setting up shop at Starrett City Boxing Club, in East New York, Brooklyn, one of four gyms where Dowdney, who grew up in London, is coordinating Luta outreach stations for a program he's labeled the "Life Changing Project."
The other gyms to feature the "Life Changing Project" are: the Brotherhood Boxing Club in Ridgewood, Queens; Champs Gym in New Rochelle; and the Fight Back Martial Arts Program in the Bronx.
Dowdney has lived in Rio for the past 20 years, where he was struck by the difficult conditions for so many youth. "In Rio, I bumped into a 13-year-old kid in a slum, holding a Kalashnikov [rifle]. He was learning the drug trade," Dowdney told me. "That kid is what inspired me. I want to take this across the world, have gyms in 500 cities. We want to get young kids out of gangs, and drugs. Luta means to struggle, to never give in."
Fifty percent of profits from Luta sportswear sales will go to funding the Luta programs at the gyms, Dowdney told me.
Galarza left Rio, he said, charged up to deliver his message to kids that they can get out of the street life. He saw an extreme version of the wayward preteens and teens in Rio: "Out in the open, on a table, drugs were being sold, guarded by guys with AK-47s. You see it everywhere," he said. "And here, you have kids, 16, 17, running around with guns. They think it's cool. They want to be to like this hip hop artist. They get influenced easily, they want to make the money. It's similar to what I saw in Rio.
"At Starrett City, we'll want to change their thoughts, have an open-door policy, and there will be no judgment, we'll treat everyone like family."