This Twentysomething Wants to Help At-Risk Teens. So She Opened a Boxing Gym.

E-Lisa Moreno knows she’s the unlikeliest of small business owners in the Kansas City suburbs. That’s what keeps her going, despite some setbacks.

E-Lisa Moreno coaches a young boxer at RNE Boxing Club, which she opened in 2011 in the Kansas City area.
National Journal
Alexia Campbell
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alexia Campbell
Aug. 7, 2014, 10:06 a.m.

This pro­file is part of a Next Amer­ica series on the ex­per­i­ences of minor­ity small-busi­ness own­ers in the United States.

When E-Lisa Moreno tells people she runs her own busi­ness, they don’t al­ways be­lieve her. After all, she’s only 24. And wo­men don’t nor­mally open box­ing gyms. But these re­ac­tions don’t both­er her. “It’s amus­ing,” says Moreno, a 5-foot-3-inch former pro­fes­sion­al box­er. “If any­thing, it pushes me to do more.”

Moreno trains about 60 people at RNE Box­ing Club, which she opened with her fath­er nearly three years ago in a Kan­sas City sub­urb. Most of her mem­bers are kids, and about a dozen are troubled teens in a po­lice pro­gram for at-risk youth. Coach­ing kids and watch­ing them build con­fid­ence has be­come Moreno’s life pas­sion.

“I love see­ing a kid who people saw as ‘bad’ be­come someone who has ac­com­plished something,” Moreno says.

Open­ing a box­ing club dur­ing the eco­nom­ic re­ces­sion was an ex­hil­ar­at­ing and nerve-rack­ing ex­per­i­ence — and it con­tin­ues to be a source of stress. Rare for a fledgling small busi­ness, RNE Box­ing Club began turn­ing a profit early on. But now it barely makes enough to cov­er ex­penses. Moreno waits tables at a loc­al Mex­ic­an res­taur­ant to pay her own bills. This is just a tem­por­ary set­back in her eyes, a “bump in the road” to ful­filling a dream she had since high school.

As a teen­ager, Moreno was more in­ter­ested in bas­ket­ball than box­ing. She put on her first pair of box­ing gloves when she was 17, while wait­ing for her two young­er broth­ers to fin­ish one of their even­ing box­ing classes. A coach said she could punch bags while she waited. With­in a few months, Moreno had lost nearly 50 pounds.

“I was in awe,” says Moreno, who weighed 200 pounds when she star­ted. “I was fi­nally proud of how I looked.”

She soon for­got about bas­ket­ball and was spend­ing her even­ings at the box­ing gym. Then came her first box­ing match and the mo­ment that hooked her. Moreno threw a cross punch that hit her op­pon­ent in the chin and dropped her to the floor. “The ad­ren­aline was the best feel­ing in the world,” she says. “I’ve nev­er felt any­thing like that.”

Box­ing be­came Moreno’s call­ing — and her fath­er, a car sales­man, be­came her coach and biggest fan. He traveled with her to dozens of matches across Kan­sas and watched her win second place in her weight cat­egory at the 2010 na­tion­al Wo­men’s Golden Gloves tour­na­ment in Flor­ida.

After high school, Moreno began tak­ing classes at a loc­al com­munity col­lege with a schol­ar­ship from the Kan­sas City Golden Gloves. But she stuck with box­ing, turn­ing pro and coach­ing kids on the side.

Moreno saw prom­ise in one 13-year-old girl at the gym and coached her to win three na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship titles. When the girl died in a tra­gic traffic ac­ci­dent in 2011, Moreno says it was too pain­ful to re­turn to the same gym. In­stead, she de­cided to open her own.

Her dad hes­it­ated when she first pitched him the idea, she says. They didn’t have much money and they didn’t want to take out a loan. But they de­cided to make it work. Moreno quit school and her fath­er quit his job at the car deal­er­ship. Loc­al busi­nesses sponsored the club and they raised more than $10,000 — enough to buy equip­ment and rent space in a strip mall. The loc­al Golden Gloves donated the box­ing ring.

Moreno named the club in hon­or of the girl who had died. Her ini­tials were RNE. With­in six months, the club was already mak­ing money. The gym had about 500 mem­bers and the park­ing lot was packed. 

The club’s suc­cess seemed too good to be true — and it was. A year after Moreno opened the gym, the loc­al fire de­part­ment said she would need to in­stall an in­door sprink­ler sys­tem in case a fire broke out. The own­ing of the build­ing wouldn’t pay for it. “The cheapest es­tim­ate we got was $20,000,” Moreno says. “So we star­ted look­ing for an­oth­er place.”

In Decem­ber, Moreno and her fath­er moved the gym in­to a smal­ler space that could only fit about 60 people, so they lost most of their cus­tom­ers. Both fath­er and daugh­ter had to take day jobs. “It was very dis­ap­point­ing,” says Moreno, “but I don’t want to give up.”

Moreno does won­der some­times if she should have fin­ished col­lege and be­come a po­lice of­ficer or ac­count­ant. But then she re­mem­bers the pride she felt earli­er this year when one of her kids won a na­tion­al Sil­ver Gloves tour­na­ment. “It’s all about the kids. It’s al­ways been about them,” she says.

What We're Following See More »
PLENTY OF MISTAKES IN COVERT TESTS
Report: U.S. Ill-Equipped to Detect Dirty Bomb
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

A DHS report "found gaping holes in domestic nuclear detection and defense capabilities and massive failures during covert testing." A team put in place to assess our readiness capabilities found significant issues in detecting dangerous radioactive and nuclear materials, failing to do so in 30 percent of covert tests conducted over the course of the year. In far too many cases, the person operating the detection device had no idea how to use it. And when the operator did get a hit, he or she relayed sensitive information over unsecured open radio channels."

Source:
WON’T INTERFERE IN STRUCTURING NSC OFFICE
White House to Give McMaster Carte Blanche
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
RESTROOM ISSUES RETURN
Trump To Rescind Trans Protections
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Donald Trump is planning to reverse an Obama-era order requiring that schools allow students to use the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity. Trump "has green-lighted the plan for the Justice Department and Education Department to send a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools rescinding the guidance." A case is going before the Supreme Court on March 28 in which Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student, is suing his high school for forbidding him to use the men's room.

Source:
NAIVE, RISK TAKER
Russia Compiling Dossier on Trump’s Mind
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Retired Russian diplomats and members of Vladimir Putin's staff are compiling a dossier "on Donald Trump's psychological makeup" for the Russian leader. "Among its preliminary conclusions is that the new American leader is a risk-taker who can be naïve, according to a senior Kremlin adviser."

Source:
PLANS TO CURB ITS POWER
Pruitt Confirmed As EPA Head
4 days ago
BREAKING
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login