CALDWELL — After clocking out from his daytime job as a plumber, JR Mendoza returns to his home in Caldwell to do what he loves best: train young boxers.
After taking his usual route home, which includes picking up young boxers to drive to practice, JR arrives at the boxing gym in his own backyard.
Waiting at home for her father and trainer is 16-year-old Alyssa Mendoza, who recently became the first female from Idaho to make the USA Boxing Youth National Team and is striving to qualify for the 2024 Olympics.
Dubbed, "MK Boxing," the gym is a product of the Mendoza family’s hard work. A few years ago, JR and his wife, Wendy, decided to buy a new house with an old mechanic shop on the property. Naturally, they converted the shop to a gym, which now serves as a home to about 10 Idaho boxers ranging from the ages of 8 to 17, all trained by JR.
“We're all strong mentally and physically .... We're all very dedicated to something,” Alyssa said. “I mean, my dad's a hard worker; when he goes to work, he gets his job done. My brother's a hard worker, my sister’s a hard worker .... We're all mentally strong, especially my dad. He's taught me to be mentally strong. I think that's what makes us so good.”
JR Mendoza, a Guanajuato, Mexico native, started training young boxers when his son, Brandon, was 9 years old and wanted to compete. Brandon, now 25, and his oldest daughter, Rachel Mendoza, 24, were among JR’s first trainees. Now, he opens his doors to all young, aspiring boxers.
“It’s a privilege, I think, to do what I do. I really do. I get to help kids. More than anything, we try to keep kids out of the streets,” JR said. “I don't really make any money. We have a small fee to just try to maintain the gym. You know, some kids can't afford to pay so we're not gonna charge them.”
But Alyssa’s family’s involvement does not stop at JR.
Brandon Mendoza worked out a deal with his boss at Element Athletix gym in Meridian to let his father’s fighters work out there every weekend. Alyssa’s 14-year-old stepsister and best friend, Alex, trains with her every day. Her stepmother, Wendy, took several certifying courses on nutrition to help Alyssa and Alex monitor their diets in order to make weight and stay healthy.
“When you go to other gyms, usually your trainers are a complete stranger to you, and you kind of have to get to know them really well,” Alyssa said. “With (my family), I already know them and they already know me. They know who I am and how I am, how to make jokes about certain things, also how to take it seriously and boost each other up really well.”
According to JR, Alyssa has won about 28 of her 40 career fights and has made a clear reputation for herself. In fact, JR has been having a hard time finding competitors who are willing to fight Alyssa.
“(Alyssa) is very humble,” JR said. “She wants to become a role model for some of the young girls coming up and even all the girls, because in the end, everything comes down to how disciplined you can be and how you can sacrifice so much to become what you want to become.”
Alyssa is categorized in the bantamweight class at 119 pounds for Team USA. While she hopes to model her style and footwork after Ukrainian professional boxer Vasyl Lomachenko, Alyssa also admires Manny Pacquiao for his mindset.
“(Pacquiao) is very spiritual, I'm very spiritual ... he's a good influence for me because he's a very strict Christian, and he loves the Lord and I love the Lord,” Alyssa said. “I want my mentality to be like his, because I feel like the mentality of being like Jesus is the best thing that you can do.”
Because of Alyssa’s intense dedication to the sport, she often keeps her head down and grinds through everything, including school. Maintaining good grades is important to the Middleton High School junior. If she does well in school, she has nothing holding her back from traveling to competitions. Alyssa is a fan of anatomy and the human body, and has an expressed interest in psychology and the human brain.
“Every body part is basically the same except for the brain. It fascinates me,” Alyssa said. “Everybody has their own personality in their brain, every brain is different. Every brain is stronger in this area or that area and vice versa. So I find that really interesting.”
While her success in school is something she and her father are certainly proud of, Alyssa’s main focus is on becoming an Olympian. To do so, she must continue to qualify for the USA Team every year.
The Mendozas are in Colorado Springs, Colorado, beginning Tuesday, as Alyssa attends a camp with the USA Boxing Team at the Olympic Center. In the stands observing and learning will be Alex, who began training after seeing Alyssa win her first fight four years ago.
“She can be the strongest person in the ring,” Alex said. “She's so strong, and whatever else she has gone through, she's still pushing through it. And I really look up to her for that.”