MORRISANIA, The Bronx (WABC) -- Less than a week from the National Puerto Rican Day parade we want to recognize some of the Puertorriqueños that make New York City great.
Like Fernando Laspina, the 67-year-old founder of El Maestro Boxing Gym in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx.
Most people call him 'Ponce.'
"Because I come from Ponce, Puerto Rico," he said laughing.
Behind that infectious laugh is a wealth of wisdom that grew out of teenage hardship.
Laspina started the gym 19 years ago and wanted it to be more than just a place to fine-tune a jab and develop a hook.
Puerto Rican pride and cultural heritage are a big part of the training regimen.
"My ancestors, just like me, came from Puerto Rico and they established themselves here," Laspina said. "Like musicians, educators, boxers."
He left Puerto Rico in 1970 and arrived here in the Bronx at the age of 15.
Gang life, street fights, and a two-year prison sentence soon followed.
Armed with a new mission, he went to college, earned a master's degree in Latin American studies, and worked for NYCHA for 22 years.
That life history is why Laspina and his gym are more focused on nurturing kids than training boxers. He's a life coach and his gym is a community center.
"Every day that you are here, you are not outside doing whatever it is other people do," amateur boxer John Henriquez said.
They work together to help the next generation avoid the bad decisions that tarnished his youth.
"It's sort of like a support system that we have here with the elders," amateur boxer Joseph Torres said. "The elders come, they tell you, they share life stories. And from those life stories, you can see how different their lives could have been."
Laspina is proud of the work he's doing to give young people a fighting chance at making a better life for themselves.
"To be able to have kids and take them away from the streets, take them away from jail, that's my championship," he said.
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