Roanoke native combines passions to give back

Boxing program teaches kids self-discipline, patience

by Shawn Nowlin

Young Bryce Lopez bobs and weaves for the camera during his routine practice at Woodberry’s Boxing and Brawling camp.

For La’Torie Woodberry, it’s not an exaggeration to say that boxing saved his life. As a kid who suffered from anger management and self-esteem issues, Woodberry says a lot of those difficulties could be attributed to the broken family he had. Growing up in the 1990s, he noted, it was common to see domestic violence, robbery, and physical assault in the neighborhood.

Woodberry was raised in a one-parent household at Hunt Manor Apartments. In 2000, at age 14, he moved to Salem where he attended the city’s high school. Five years later, Woodberry was arrested and sentenced to prison for home invasion, burglary, and other similar crimes. Speaking on his mentality at the time, he said, “I got in a lot of trouble because I was running with a group of individuals that I shouldn’t have been.”

While in prison, Woodberry learned the art and complexities of boxing. Those skills came in handy because, as he explains, “I got into a lot of fist fights in prison.” He added, “I was angry for putting myself in that position. I was very immature and had limited thoughts as to any consequences for my actions.”  

It was a man named Mike “Legend” Lewis from Roanoke who showed Woodberry the difference between boxing and brawling during this time in his life. I absorbed every ounce of information that Mike gave me and upon my prison release, he explained, I founded a gym in my hometown called ‘Gator Boxing.’

The way Woodberry sees it, boxing can be a catalyst to take you from where you currently are to where you want to be in life. Since 2012, the boxer has traveled to different states to challenge elite prospects, opening for three world title cards along the way.

Kamarion Bald, left spars with Raesean Bakerand at the Boxing and Brawling camp.

Under his imprint, ‘Boxing and Brawling LLC,’ Woodberry operates a youth boxing program that gives at-risk youth a safe space to combat stress while learning invaluable life skills such as accountability, work ethic, and self-discipline.

Many of the kids Woodberry works with remind him of his younger self. “I work with nearly 100 youth, and I consider them all family,” he said. “They all have the potential to do great things in life and I want to do everything in my power to help them reach their full potential.”

Because it relies strictly on generous donations, the program has endured its share of obstacles. After losing its facility at Champ’s Gym on Jamison Avenue in the summer, Woodberry had to transition into ‘Boxing in the Park.’ Not having access to a gym has really taken a toll on the fighters, noted Woodberry.

“Resources are desperately needed to continue doing this. The main two things needed are a building to conduct our activities and monetary donations,” he added. “The city invests a lot of money in certain programs every year. We would love for the city to invest in our kids the same way they do the Boys and Girls Club and dance teams.”

Interested individuals can make a donation to the Boxing and Brawling GoFundMe page that Woodberry recently created. As of press time, $260 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.