HELENA — For Thomas Beck, founder of Iron House Boxing Academy, entering the three-car garage he converted into a youth boxing ring and training center is his sanctuary.
After coming home from his shift as head of maintenance at Shilo Inns Helena, Beck draws himself into another world for three or four hours.
He transforms into a trainer, mentor, teacher and cook for children who are highly susceptible to life's trappings such as drug and alcohol addiction, and hopes to use the sport of boxing as a vehicle to help them escape those issues.
The 14-foot ring, which sits in a three-car garage approximately 25-by-30 feet, has three heavy bags and two double-end bags. Also, Beck and his team are in the process of installing 200 pounds worth of weights.
Beck, who swam competitively at the recreation level, was a former boxer and attempted a career in comedy when he lived in California. He dubs his kids with nicknames when they are busy sparring in the ring, jabbing on the bags or padding to get ready for the estimated 10-20 competitions they travel to in a year.
Iron House, which trains boxers ages 7 and up, is Beck's way to decompress.
"This is my Christmas and this is my summer vacation because it gives me that kind of release and relaxation," Beck said. "Sometimes, I'll even get in the ring with the bigger kids and get some of that frustration out that way."
He dubs his pupils with nicknames such as "Lil' Ali," "Mazda," "Stretch" or "The Beast," all with the hope of building up their confidence and creating deeper connections with the students he trains.
"After I come home from work, I work another three to four hours a day," Beck said. "If their parents are running late, I cook dinner for another hour-and-a-half."
Beck drew inspiration from his 10-year-old son, Logan Avila, who began boxing at H-Town Boxing in Helena. Beck decided to create his academy for "at-risk" children from single-parent households.
"I don't want to coach the perfect child," Beck adamantly stated. "I want the child that is struggling and having a problem. I want to build that person up because there wasn't a program like that in this town. Some kids end up in a group home, and they lock themselves away. There is nothing creative for them use to build themselves up. The child got that way for a reason."
Beck, a native of North Carolina, chose to teach the sport of boxing to children because he believes it provides discipline, self-motivation, and is a form of controlled aggression.
"Being a single dad myself, I was looking for something for my son," Beck said. "I thought if I could open a gym and run it like I want to, I could help these parents find creative things for their kids to do. Boxing is a sport that teaches humility. It humbled me when I was a kid and showed me how to work and be productive. I wanted to pass that on to work with kids, and now this has grown into something different."
Beck formed a team of parents and helpers who all spent hours gathering the necessary certification to make his vision of this training facility come to fruition.
Beck, his team of parents, and his participants all sell raffle tickets and organize fundraisers as a way to fund and make travel arrangements for the regional tournaments they enter.
Local businesses, such as Rent-A-Center, have donated televisions, gaming systems and computers that contestants can win through raffle drawings Iron House sponsors.
Beck's cabinet of assistant coaches, including Cody Woslager, who is a semipro boxer in Helena, and Logan Mestdagh, an MMA fighter, also aid in additional instruction.
Amy Chartier, the treasurer of Iron House, said she has seen tremendous growth from the athletes since they joined the organization, which began operation only seven months ago.
"My daughter has had a pretty rough life, and I what see these kids have gained and the integrity they've learned," Chartier said. "They hold themselves with pride. They are proud of what they are doing in the gym and in general."
Chartier, whose 10-year-old daughter Kaylee is known as "Lil' Ali," has seen tremendous growth in her child through boxing.
"There are fewer confrontations at home since they started boxing," Amy Chartier said. "Boxing is a great outlet for them to focus on something, be a part of something and succeed at something. (They) can take a lot of their energy and anger out on the bags."
Chartier and Iron House secretary Shena Crane, who moved to Helena from Florida three years ago, are working together to raise additional funds to cover the cost of traveling and training for the boxing facility.
"This team is like a family and all of the kids feel like they are a part of the family," Chartier said. "The younger kids look up to the bigger kids, and some of the bigger kids encourage the younger ones during competitions."
Chartier said she saw a quick transformation.
"Since we started boxing, my daughter is bringing home straight-A report cards," Chartier said. "When she started, she was down on herself. The transformation of her self-confidence and self-esteem has just been amazing."
Crane agreed with Chartier's assessment of Kaylee's growth.
"She's doing amazing," Crane said. "All the way around, she is a pretty good kid. The kids that come here are polite and well-mannered, and we have no problems."
Finding an outlet
Before finding the outlet of boxing, Kaylee struggled with anger issues, according to her mother, Amy Chartier.
Through the sport of boxing, Kaylee said she found a constructive outlet to address those problems.
"This boxing means a lot to me because I've had a hard life and boxing has helped me handle life better," Kaylee Chartier said. "I've grown a lot since learning how to box. This has helped me overcome my problems, and I've learned to get close to people."
Kaylee boxes with several athletes registered at Iron House, including 13-year-old Zandrea Krummel, 15-year-olds Jonah Loberg, John Cox and Zach Bell, and 10-year-old Logan Avila.
Avila said everyone involved in their boxing program has benefited from training.
"I've seen improvements from not just the kids, but my father, too," Avila said. "Boxing has taught me strength, foot movement and stamina. It teaches you self-defense and how to respect others."
John Cox, a 15-year-old boxer who is at the start of his boxing career, has also seen the short-term benefits from training.
"This is a great place, and it has helped relieve a lot of stress," Cox said. "If I was dealing with school or family problems and sometimes I wanted to get away from the house, I didn't have anywhere to go."
Beck, who continues to develop the gym with the idea of passing on the sport he was taught in his uncle's basement many years ago, hopes to teach athletes the therapeutic value of boxing.
"This is the best therapy in the world," Beck said pointing to the bag. "You can put everything into that bag: your job, your love life, your bills, and if you are in a bad mood, you can see it right there (punching the bag). All it does is listen. It doesn't talk back, it just listens."