AUSTIN (KXAN) — One of Austin’s old-time boxing legends is being remembered and honored for touching, and changing countless lives in Central Texas.
Joe Vela began bringing his mentees to Lord’s Boxing in East Austin in the 70s, after Vela met his lifelong friend Richard Lord.
“Oh, this is of Joe Vela,” said Lord in his gym’s front office, pointing to a picture of Vela. “He’s a dear friend of mine…he unfortunately passed away as we all will.”
Lord will be one of the first to tell you that Vela saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives in and outside of the boxing ring.
“Joe has been in the boxing world, his whole life,” Lord said. “And he was a very positive influence to lots of people that wanted to box he helped train a lot of kids gave a lot of direction to a lot of kids that needed direction. And he was always facilitating helping people learn how to box and how to deal with life to the boxing world.”
Lord said he began bringing kids to his gym, when he didn’t have a gym of his own yet. Vela needed a place for those he was mentoring — using boxing to get them off the streets and away from drugs and gangs.
“A lot of them didn’t have father figures, a lot of them didn’t have their mother figures, they didn’t have any figures in their life,” Lord said.
Vela was eventually able to open his own gym: Austin Boxing Against Drugs and Gangs. According to Vela’s son, Jerry, he didn’t charge his athletes.
Jerry saw firsthand how his dad was like a father to everyone he got to know.
“Especially now that my dad passed…[I’ve been getting] a lot of feedback from a lot of people that he’s seen in the past, and hearing stories that I’ve not heard,” said Jerry, fighting back tears. “My friend mentioned to me that if it weren’t for the words of encouragement, he would have just quit.
Vela, a Golden Glove Champion and U.S. Army veteran, was a servant, and helped a lot of people find their way. He coached for more than 50 years, according to his son.
That’s why Vela’s photo will forever have a place on Lord’s boxing gym’s wall. Lord hopes it will serve as a reminder and inspiration for everyone.
“Probably never will come down,” Lord said. “As long as I’m here, it’s going to be there.”
Vela’s celebration of life was on Saturday afternoon. His son hopes more people are inspired by his dad’s story and donate their time and resources to help at-risk youth.