Making a Difference: Boxing club packs a positive punch for kids

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A Madison police officer is really packing a punch in the impact he's making with kids on the west side of the city. Justin Nelsen is a neighborhood officer for the Hammersley Road and Theresa Terrace neighborhood.

About three years ago, Nelsen started the West Side Boxing Club with help from the Bob Lynch Boxing Foundation, Madison Community Policing Foundation and Elver Park Neighborhood Center. Every week, Madison police officers meet with kids to teach them about the sport. Nelson said, even more importantly, they learn life skills too.

"Our goal here is not to make a boxer that ends up going to nationals and the Golden Gloves. I mean, if that happens, that's great. The goal here is to have a program, another program, a different program than the rest of the city that kids can find a niche with, find a place to go and maybe that's that thing that they learn how to be great at. They can take those life skills that we learn here and bring them out," said Nelsen.

For Nelsen, boxing came before the badge.

"I started looking at boxing video tapes when I was in Iraq during my second tour, just to do something different, and then we moved to Denver and they have an awesome boxing culture there.

When he moved to Madison, he started the boxing club and said it just made sense.

"For kids who come from areas like the Raymond Road corridor, boxing isn't as foreign. You don't find many affluent kids who want to get hit in the face. A lot of times, you might have to come from a different background to want to get in there and want to face life's challenges when you're in the ring.

A reality in the ring he knows firsthand.

"I grew up single mom. I have two younger brothers. We great up pretty poor. We didn't have heat in the winter sometimes. My mom was tough as nails and did a great job but we grew up tough... Statistic-wise I probably shouldn't be here. My father passed away, homeless, from alcoholism when I was a senior in high school," said Nelsen.

"I think Justin is one of my greatest role models. He is athletic, he's fit and he's smart. He's always working to help others," said 14-year-old Jesus Medina.

"It's a sport that you can learn a lot of life skills from. You can really learn about yourself, what you're willing to go through, and things like hard work and pushing forward when life gets you down," said Nelsen.