SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- Heron Mendez has been boxing since he was five years old. Though the disabled veteran has long since hung up his gloves, that hasn't stopped him from helping others lace up.
Mendez runs Mendez Boxing in Springfield. He hopes to use boxing as a tool to keep kids off the street.
"I think it's better for them to do something constructive by coming and working out instead of out there, stealing your tires off your car or breaking into your home," says Mendez.
While that may sound extreme, Mendez says he grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and understands some of the temptations young men in poverty face. His fighters agree, saying Heron is the reason they strive to be their best.
Jorge Monray has been training with Mendez for 5 years.
"He's kept me off the streets," says Monray. "If I wasn't boxing, I'd probably be out in the streets, fighting and doing whatnot, the bad stuff."
But instead of fighting on the streets, Monray saves his fighting for the ring. He recently won Silver Gloves, and has hopes to someday go to the Olympics. Boxer Carlos Ortega says Mendez helped him turn his life around.
"I used to go and fight on the streets, I was bad. I had anger management as a kid. And just coming to the gym showed me that's not how life is supposed to be," says Ortega.
That's exactly what Mendez wants.
"Basically we try to keep kids off the street."
Heron has high expectations for his students that come to his gym run out of Anytime Fitness in Springfield. Chants of "hard work" and "dedication" float through the air, principles Mendez expects his boxers to internalize.
Another caveat of training with Mendez: the fighters need to get good grades.
"We stress education. Education is really important, because we just hope they grow up and be good citizens."
If a student can follow Mendez's rules, then he'll go to the mat for them.
Heron says he often pays for his fighter's food, gas, even wrappings; anything to keep them in the gym and on the right path.
"Some of these kids don't have the money, their parents don't have that money to pay a lot of times," he says.
So, without batting an eye, Heron steps in.
"A lot of their funds come out of my pocket."
But that can make things hard: Heron is also on a fixed budget.
"It's a little difficult because I'm on Social Security," Mendez says, "So sometimes I miss some bills."
But knowing that his own hard work and dedication is keeping his students focused on their futures is enough payment for Mendez.
"I enjoy it. I enjoy it so I do it. I figure it out."
For more information on Mendez's boxing gym visit their Facebook page.