Redefining inner strength with boxing gloves

In the basement of the Multnomah Athletic Club, a trainer pushes Max Decker to do his wall walks faster. He’s tired, but forces himself to pick up the pace — not only for his trainer, but for himself.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself often for Max, a sophomore at Lincoln High School in Portland, who uses these workouts to pursue his hobby of boxing competitively. Max has always had an interest in boxing, but only recently started pursuing it after being re-inspired.

Former professional boxer Mike Tyson sparked his initial interest in boxing. The anime “Hajime no Ippo,” or “The First Step” was the second — and latest — inspiration. The story is about a high schooler learning to box. Max found the show a year ago, and the messages that were portrayed, such as redefining what strength is, resonated with him. He especially liked how the show didn’t play into the idea that people who box are violent.

“If you think of a boxer, you think of someone like Mike Tyson who talks smack, but I don’t really want to be like that,” Max said. “I just want to do a sport that I think is fun.”

At first, his mother, Tia Milne, refused to let him box, he said. She was frustrated that Max wasn’t involved in a sport at the time, yet they disagreed on what he should do. In the end, they came to a consensus. For the last four months he has been training at the athletic club, which is near his school.

Max considers this hobby something he does to improve himself.

He strives to continuously challenge himself — from playing the most difficult part of a video game to taking up extra credit opportunities at school. Whatever he does, Max doesn’t want to disappoint himself.

His trainer keeps him on track by putting him through demanding exercises and workouts, including wall walks, “nonstop cardio” and going up several flights of stairs.

When he’s not at the club, Max practices by shadow boxing, or sparring with an imaginary opponent, at home. He likes to keep in shape so he tries to hit the gym four to five days a week and go on jogs or walks.

Despite their initial conflict, his mother became a surprising source of motivation. The more she saw him improve, the more impressed she became.

“It wasn’t until recently in my life that I feel like her grasp on who I was supposed to be loosened a bit and I’ve been able to express myself differently, do different things, try new things,” Max said.

Although boxing is a hobby for Max now, he hopes to pursue it competitively soon. With the support of his trainer, his mom, and his own motivation, he hopes to one day participate in amateur competitions.

“Boxing makes me feel strong and capable,” Max said. “There’s nothing in the world like it.”

— By Kalia Yee, Salem-Keizer Early College High School

This story was produced by student reporters as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration between The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to

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