When you open your eyes and look around you I believe that you can find heroes everywhere. They are every day champions who decide to put others before themselves and understand that service to others is the most rewarding path to happiness. I am always struck by the stories that have driven these ordinary people to do extraordinary things. They are champions of the underdog, fearless activists, animal lovers, and volunteers who make a significant difference without a superior advantage.
If you happen to walk by the police station around 5pm, you can meet Sergeant Rolando Diaz Brenes who has used his position here as a role model and community leader to start a youth boxing club. Diaz is a gentle spirited officer with a contagious smile, and by the crowd of kids surrounding him it seems that his love of boxing is contagious as well. Each day from 5-7pm the station’s storage area is filled with kids from 8-23 years old. They are stretching, doing sit-ups, push-ups, jumping rope, and sparring with each other and their trainer. At 5pm, they are off the streets, doing something productive, something that will make their bodies strong and minds tired. Rolando Diaz, an ordinary man taking the time to transform the lives of these impressionable kids.
I would explain it to you myself, but my words would pale in comparison to his. Diaz says, “The project was initiated about two months ago. It started with four or five boys, and then we reached out to different communities on the island. We spoke with youth to let them know about the program so that they could come if they were interested. Little by little, they started arriving for practice…..I don’t believe that bad kids exist, just poorly trained or poorly taught. It could be by their parents, or because their dad doesn’t live with their mom, or they only live with their mom, or grandmother. In general what happens here, kids live alone with their mothers; their fathers are not present. So they receive a lot of influence from the outside. They search in the street, in drugs, in alcohol, for that important part of their lives- a father who helps them, teaches them. A father figure is very important in the home so they look in their friendships for what they don’t find at home: affection, education, respect, you know, these are important things for them…And they see, in the coaches, not exactly a father figure, but something similar to a father, someone who helps them, and someone who talks to them. There are times when we have to speak very seriously with them, and sometimes we have to laugh with them. And that’s why I think these programs are good. The more that comes, the better. Sometimes people think that it is not worth it, but no, if a hundred show up and even just one is able to change, it is big. It is beneficial – for society, for the police, for the youth themselves.”
Diaz went on to tell me about his own inspiration for boxing, world champion, Roberto Duran. “He comes from a very poor neighborhood of Panama City. It is very dangerous, very violent. He is an inspiration for almost all Panamanians. He is a national hero, Roberto Manos de Piedra Duran, it is inspiring. And for me boxing is something very beautiful; it changed my life…. There is a saying that a Panamanian General– Omar Torrijos Herrera – said “educate a child and you won’t punish a man.”“
I left the station that day feeling enamored by the drive and influence of Sergeant Diaz, and I began thinking of all the people who’d passed through my own life, each leaving me with a special memory. While we might not all be able to drastically touch the lives of a hundred or even ten, it’s that one person whose life you actually impact that makes all the difference.