Students from the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Center (KCLC) received a special Christmas gift from the private sector last week that busted them out of school and into the gym.
Thanks to a $1,500 Telus grant, key volunteers, and the support of Trail’s Pride Gym, students from the Take A Hike program at KCLC will receive expert instruction and the opportunity to train at Pride Gym for the next several weeks.
“We wanted the kids to get into a community gym, a gym that’s outside of the school because it gives them the opportunity to walk into an environment that can be intimidating, so this gives them the confidence,” said SD 20 school board trustee Gordon Smith.
Smith, who is also the regional network manager for Telus, along with Take a Hike’s clinical therapist Chris Gibson were instrumental in kick-starting an MMA program at KCLC about a year ago, thanks to an earlier grant from Telus that helped the program purchase MMA equipment so students could train at the school.
Gibson has a background in martial arts and started teaching MMA to interested KCLC students, and, Smith, who also trains at Pride, began volunteering with the program in January. Soon former MMA fighter, River Jones, a Freedom Quest youth worker, also volunteered to help train the fighters that meet weekly at KCLC to train.
While the program is a positive addition to the KCLC curriculum, getting a chance to train at Pride Gym with owner Glen Kalesniko, and, where Jones began a fighting career that saw her rise to the fourth ranked MMA fighter in the world, is exciting for both the students and instructors as well.
“They get to come into a real gym environment, work with some real trainers, and other people that have experience it and I think it will enlighten them to keep going with it,” says Kalesniko. “River really helps, and she is trained with working with kids, she has an education in it so that just gives a whole other side of it that I don’t have.”
Jones continues to train with the intensity of one who is going after a world title, but her easy demeanor with the students also reveals a passion for teaching and passing on her love of the sport to her students.
“I teach here and a group in Castlegar as well,” said Jones. “But these guys are great, they are hard working, full of energy, and its fun to watch them transform over the course of the program.”
As for the students, the workouts are physically challenging but for many who have had difficulty with mainstream education, it instills a good work ethic and one that helps them focus.
“It’s wonderful, I love going to school there,” said Devon Hoggan a KCLC student. “Not to mention the fact that we get to do things like this. I get to train during school hours, which is nice because I’d usually go home and shadow box … I was a pretty angry kid, but ever since I started with mixed martial arts, I’ve cooled down a lot.”
The Take a Hike program is in its third year at KCLC, and is independently funded, but works in partnership with School District 20, and provides a therapist, Gibson, and an outdoor learning instructor, in addition to equipment and transportation to facilitate the program.
“The Take a Hike program, it’s an adventure based so you get to go out and go hiking, camping, canoeing we actually have multi-day trips where we camp out in the woods, and get to know everybody really well,” says Hoggan. “At first it’s a little weird but after a couple months it becomes a very tight knit group, it’s a bonding experience.”
Like Take a Hike, Pride Gym has a storied history of giving young kids a leg up through training in various martial arts. Young fighters learn discipline, respect, and commitment, while developing confidence, a new skill, and fitness, and none have better mentors than Pride Gym’s Kalesniko and Jones.
“It’s awesome that we can go there (KCLC) and use the space, there’s lots of room, but there’s something totally different about walking into an actual gym, like the gear, the pads, and the ring especially, and there is so much history here with all the fighting stuff, so it just gets you into a completely different mentality,” added Jones.