Optimism Keeps Brooklyn Gym Afloat in Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

For Anthony Santiago, trainer at Rockaway Ropes, November has been a challenging month. In late October, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states along the East Coast with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Its storm surge hit Queens, N.Y., on October 29, severely flooding streets, transportation systems and the gym that Santiago and his partners, Kenyatta Harris and Keith Gafne, have spent the last five years building. After the storm, Santiago, Harris and Gafne were tasked with some heavy duty clean up. The gym walls remained standing but their floor ring and much of their equipment was destroyed. The gym was shut down for restoration for about a month. Santiago calls this a “quick mend,” stating that there were many other people in much worse situations.

Joseph Williams at Rockaway Ropes

The gym re-opened on November 26 but there is still work to be done. Santiago seemed overwhelmed as he rattled off the list of damage. Much of the equipment including gloves, heavy bags, lockers and digital scales had to be thrown away. Most of Rockaway’s athletes rely on that equipment for training since they aren’t able to afford their own. Rockaway Ropes functions inside of a housing project community center and allows athletes to train free of charge. They run solely on donations from local politicians and merchants to keep the gym up and running. These funds are used to purchase equipment for their athletes and keep the gym functioning, but they sometimes run short. “We are blessed that donations can carry us through the year,” Santiago admitted. “But sometimes we purchase shoes and trunks out of our own pockets for fighters who can’t afford them.”

Rockaway Ropes is best known for producing Olympic Heavyweight alternate and three-time Golden Glove champ, Joseph Williams. [Photo caption: Boxer Joe Williams prepares to spar at the Rockaway Ropes gym. Courtesy of NYDailyNews.com] The gym has provided a safe haven to a number of pro and amateur fighters. In fact, while the gym was shut down, one of Santiago’s boxers had a championship fight. With the loss of equipment and no facility to train he was not up to par and lost. Santiago brushes the loss off, saying, “Even though he had no time to train there are no excuses. A loss is a loss.”
Thanks to volunteers and celebrities who came out to help with the clean up life is slowly returning to normal at Rockaway. But as an optimistic Santiago puts it, “We still have our health. It will take time for the community to get back to normal.” Some of the gym’s athletes are also dealing with loss including their homes, cars and jobs. Santiago wants to assure these young people that Rockaway is there and ready for them when they are prepared to continue their training.