From the outside it appears to be nothing more than your typical garage tucked off an alley in Mason City.
One step into the door, however, and the Everlast boxing flag hanging on the west wall greets you. It’s flanked by trophies in one corner and three boxing bags hanging from wooden planks on the ceiling.
It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t need to be.
One second hip-hop songs are blaring from the stereo. Minutes later “Rocky” references are being thrown around.
This is Tommy Baltierra’s idea of a good time.
Boxing has been in his blood for years. Day by day, he transfuses his passion to his students.
Baltierra has been teaching boxing since 2005, except for the 17 months he was deployed in in Iraq with the Iowa Army National Guard 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry.
There’s no actual ring at this training facility, but that doesn’t matter to him.
Four guys are there on this night. One of them has a big bout coming up in a few days. The others are there to hone their skills and stay in shape, among other things.
“Good things don’t come easy,” Baltierra said. “Great rewards do not come easy. The real challenge is when they walk out that door, then they are on
their own. The real challenge is when they are on their own, when the vulnerabilities come out in their social lives. The whole partying scene and the whole diet thing.”
Brandon Petersen’s days are full.
The 14-year old freshman from Mason City starts his days weightlifting at 6 a.m.
When the final bell rings at school, it’s off to wrestling practice, and three days a week it’s off to boxing practice immediately following that.
Brandon wouldn’t want it any other way.
His mother, Lynn, has photos before Brandon started school, posing in boxing gloves.
She knew all along boxing was going to be a part of his life sooner or later.
“He’s determined to do this,” Lynn said. “This is his passion.”
Petersen is still relatively new to the sport, although he’s followed it from afar.
He first showed up in Baltierra’s make-shift gym in August.
That day he was there to watch.
“I wanted to do it ever since,” Brandon said.
Brandon’s first bout came roughly three months later in Dubuque.
With Baltierra by his side, he TKO’d his opponent via a quick left hook followed by a right hook in the first round.
There was a hug immediately following the bout. This hug signified the beginning of Petersen’s boxing career.
“A lot of people say, ‘What is your reward?’” Baltierra said. “Them going out and getting a trophy. I love to see you win, but if you don’t, it’s OK. Keep on trying.”
His next bout was sheduled to come Saturday at the Silver Gloves tournament in Cedar Rapids.
Petersen was the only one in his weight class and received a victory without boxing.
As a freshman at Mason City, Brandon’s friends often times tell him they want to get involved in boxing.
“They don’t know how hard it is,” he says. “Some people think it’s like backyard street fighting. But you have to be skilled to do it, and you have to have heart.”
Baltierra doesn’t want his little project in the garage to explode.
Having six to seven people, who pay $50 a month, is plenty.
Any more and he would be doing his boxers a disservice.
But for Brandon and his parents, this offers a perfect escape.
There are no worries about him out in the wee hours of the night getting into trouble.
“I think it’s a good, structured sport,” Lynn Petersen said. “It’s not something that’s just off the street. There’s a lot of structure and a lot of positive reinforcement. It brings their self esteem up.”
She said she would encourage other parents to get their children involved, just as long as you can keep your emotions in check.
“It’s exciting, but there are a lot of other emotions. I have a lot of fears, but I’m totally with him. I’m there supporting him, screaming and yelling,” she said.
Safety is a concern, but if either fighter shows signs that would deter him or her from fighting their best, the fight is stopped. There are medical personnel ringside during all fights and each fighter wears headgear to soften the blows.
Brandon likes the physical nature of the sport.
He was contemplating getting involved in either boxing or mixed martial arts.
When he couldn’t find any MMA instructors in the area, he was tipped off about Baltierra’s boxing club.
So far, there have been no regrets.
“I kind of want to get higher in the rankings,” he said. “It gets harder every practice. Knowing that every tournament you go to you are fighting someone with more fights than you, it means I have to train harder.”
That’s exactly the mentality Baltierra — a former gunner’s mate in the Navy who boxed on the side — wants his boxers to take from him.
“This,” Baltierra said, “is going to keep you on track.”