On the outskirts of Southside Richmond, just across the James River Bridge, the liveliness of the city quickly fades into ruggedness. It’s hard to travel a quarter mile in any direction without encountering an individual holding a cardboard sign telling tales of tough times. Lining the streets are rundown buildings with faded wood panels falling off of the sides, boards across the windows and doors from years of being uninhabited. Small businesses are sporadically placed along the sides of the streets, mostly convenience stores with cigarette advertisements on windows which are barely visible due to the bars covering them. Numerous warehouses along the sides of the city streets sport large bay doors and bundles of lumber and machinery behind barbed wire fences. Within one warehouse on the 2400 block of Hull Street, the sounds of rhythmic thudding and a loud buzzer fills the air. Here, nestled in the rough exterior of Richmond, is the boxing gym Ninth Dimension Sports Circle, owned by Coach Omar Aleem.
When entering the gym, the first thing you notice is the dim lighting, giving a dreary effect that seems to allude to the hard work that happens there. Unmistakable is the lingering odor or sweat in the air. Looking around, one notices the large boxing ring with a canvas floor, dangling bags with duct tape patching, and rubberized floors to help support jumping. The air feels hot and heavy, lending itself to the perspiration caused by intense physical activity. A loud buzzer rings in three minute intervals, signaling a minute of rest between each round of heavy physical labor.
Coach Aleem hails from Jamaica and moved to New York earlier in life. While residing in New York he worked in state corrections and started a family with his wife, Deidre. “We moved to Richmond from New York and opened up the gym.” Aleem recalls, “Both of my sons and my daughter enjoyed boxing in New York. It was their passion, so I wanted to do what I could to give them an environment to build their skills without fighting in the streets.” He became a certified boxing coach through the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and USA Boxing, the organizations that sanction and train all boxers from the youth amateur level to the Olympic level.
While all of the trainees in the gym have their own unique style, there is a likeness among their basic techniques that even the untrained eye can see. “I stress safety and fundamentals. You see too many boxers go into the ring, swinging wild punches with no foundation. They have no defense, no movement and get caught with punches that they shouldn’t.” Aleem explains about his training methods, “People can get injured that way. Any sport can be dangerous, but with proper fundamentals the risk for injury can be minimized.” His emphasis on building a sound foundation can be seen in the style of all of the aspiring fighters training under his umbrella. His method yields results as well, over the last decade Ninth Dimension has produced dozens of Virginia/North Carolina State Golden Gloves Champions. “It takes dedication, but if you give me your dedication, I can build you into a champion.” Aleem adds while looking back on his many champions.
Both of his sons are now undefeated professional boxers with a combined record of twenty wins and zero losses. Aleem is never at a shortage of words about his sons, “They grew up boxing with the fundamentals. It’s a formula that is proven to be effective. They stayed sound to the basics and built off of them, adding in techniques that suited them along the way. Now they are undefeated professionals working towards being champions of the world!” His youngest son, Immanuwel, is currently ranked in the top 100 boxers in world at the 160 pound weight limit. “Immanuwel has fought a few times on television, ESPN and SpikeTV. All of his skills were developed here, in the gym from an early age.”
Boxing is a family affair with the Aleems, and not just among the men. Omar’s wife, Deidre also helps run the gym and sets up for competitions. Their daughter, Honey, is also a former boxer herself, sporting a State Golden Gloves title. She no longer competes in the ring, but can frequently be found in the gym helping train fighters for upcoming bouts. “We love boxing in our family obviously,” Honey laughs while discussing the sport, “it’s almost an obsession to us.”
With his sons currently training in the Washington DC area, and his daughter no longer competing, I asked Coach Aleem why he continued to keep the gym open in Richmond. “This gym is one of the few places in the area that the children can come for some structure.” He expressed concerning the state of the area outside Richmond, “They can come in here after school with a goal to strive for. Boxing teaches them discipline and helps keep them out of trouble. If they come in here and commit themselves to perfecting the technique, it may provide them a foundation to make a better life for themselves and help them get out of the area.” Omar opens the gym seven days a week, and is only a phone call away from any of his pupils. He often leaves to pick up kids that would otherwise have no way of transportation and brings them to the gym. He also organizes many showcases during local charity events to promote boxing in the community as a way to stop fighting in the streets in hopes to convert the energy from violence into a product of sport.
Boxing is thought of by many as a rough sport for the uneducated and criminal population. They see it as a sport where compassion and caring is not present. Omar Aleem and the staff of Ninth Dimension Sports Circle shows that that view is not correct. They represent a network of gyms committed to the enrichment of a community sometimes overlooked by society. Their dedication to building character and drive in children is an admirable trait that is not often seen in today’s culture. They serve as a beacon of community involvement and show that one should not judge by the rough exterior of a person, but rather what is inside an individual’s character.