When stepping inside Maximus Boxing Academy in Payson, there’s a picture of a boxer who stands with gloves on each hand, staring forward in the fighting position. The boxer pictured is nationally-ranked and well on his way to world class. A large display of belts and awards line the walls letting visitors know that this place holds the presence of greatness. And much like one would expect, inside the gym are mats, a variety of punching bags, and of course, a boxing ring where boxers come to fight.
Unlike what one would expect when entering a boxing gym, however, is a much different feeling. Inside the gym is a family — a father, mother, sons and a daughter who are sharing what they love with other families. Maximus Boxing Academy is a family gym with its owner, Aaron Garcia, striving to keep it that way while keeping his own family united in purpose, faith and action.
It was just 10 years ago, however, when tragedy struck the Garcia family, nearly tearing them apart.
While visiting Yuba Lake on July 4, 2009 to celebrate his birthday and the national holiday, Garcia’s 3-year-old son, Adan Maximus wandered off and drowned in the lake.
“My business partner at the time invited us to the lake,” Garcia said. “My oldest son, Aaron, was 6-years-old, Maximus was three, and Austin was a baby. We were enjoying the time with family and friends, then all of a sudden, Maximus was gone.
“When he died, it was like I died, too. I’m someone who loves to help people. It’s in my nature. When I’d think about my son drowning and struggling to breathe, it would kill me because I wasn’t there to help when he needed me. I couldn’t save him. It was so hard for me. I started drinking and wasn’t there for my family like they needed me. It was a very dark time.”
At the time of his son’s death, Garcia was coaching mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who were working toward national championships. He spent countless hours away from his family teaching adults how to fight, and when he was home, alcohol often consumed him.
One night, in the midst of the darkness, Garcia had a dream. In it, he said he saw his son, Maximus, playing with a dump truck on the living room floor. A feeling of sadness rushed over him that was soon replaced with one of comfort when he heard his son say two words: “I’m OK.”
“That dream was so real, and I felt my son near.” Garcia said. “Maximus told me what I needed to know, which was that he was OK, and I didn’t need to worry about him anymore.”
After feeling the closeness of his son, Garcia decided that he needed to move forward with a new resolve to keep his whole family close.
Garcia wanted to continue to teach MMA, but wanted where he taught it to be a place where his children and other children could train. Garcia wanted to open a gym that would bring his whole family together, including Maximus. At the time, his oldest son, Aaron Jr., was making a name for himself in the national boxing circuit.
“The Martial Arts are beautiful to watch,” Garcia said. “When I watch my children box, it is art.”
Fueled with his new resolve, in the summer of 2018, Garcia opened Maximus Boxing Academy in Payson, named after his son who was gone too soon. He began training his own children, and invited other children to join his family’s gym.
“There’s something about teaching boxing to kids,” Garcia said. “It’s not about fighting, but facing your opponent. It’s not about punching the other person, but learning combinations, anticipating moves, being light on your feet, and being smart. Boxing builds confidence in children to face not just the challenges in the ring, but in life. This is what I want to teach them.”
Garcia acknowledged that boxing and MMA fighting can bring with it a negative connotation and can bring a negative crowd, but said that he wants to change that perception.
“When people think about boxing and martial arts, they usually think negatively,” he said. “It’s true that many gyms can bring in a rougher crowd and fighting isn’t often seen as a good thing. I wanted to shine a positive light on boxing as something that parents can be happy having their children be a part of. I also wanted to make a family gym where I would be OK bringing my own family.”
Garcia’s approach is working, and kids from all over the Wasatch Front are coming to his gym in Payson to train. Twenty-one boxers, including his own kids, have participated in national tournaments, with many ranked at the top in their weight classes. In fact, 16-year-old Aaron Garcia recently brought home a national championship at the 2019 USA Boxing Last Chance Qualifier on Nov. 6. And Garcia himself is ranked in the top 10 for USA boxing coaches.
Yet, with the growing popularity of the gym, the proof of its success, Garcia says, lies in the happiness of his family.
“Having my family with me is what’s most important to me,” Garcia said. “It brings me comfort and happiness when we are together doing what we love.”
Utah County has driven the state of Utah’s economy for a few years now, and according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, over the next 50 years Utah County will experience the majority of another kind of growth: population growth. Utah County is projected to have the largest numeric increase in population, according to the institute, adding over one million new residents by 2065.
Although it seems like most of the growth would come from in-migration and births, there’s another Utah demographic that the institute reported will more than double over the next 50 years: baby boomers, or the population of residents 65 and older. Predictions from the institute indicate Utah’s elderly population will rise from 10.2% of the whole population to 20.3% in 2065. Utah’s median age will also see an increase from 30.7 years to 38.3 years.
A greater aging population will affect housing design and affordability, health care and recreation, the local workforce and economy. Here is what some experts say about preparing for that future now.
Housing — affordability, design, social aspects
Rob Ence, executive director for the Utah Commission on Aging, described affordable housing as a “critical issue” for people 55-plus. People age 55 and older, Ence said, deal with a wide range of challenges and circumstances — from homelessness to people who can afford to live wherever they want, to groups in between who are being “gently squeezed” out of home affordability.
The affordable housing crisis for older people will only become more critical in the future, Ence said, and needs to be a focus now. One of the important aspects of affordable housing geared towards older generations is its age-friendly design.
“Age-friendly design (is) where a person of any age can live in a home and have access to the right kind of spaces between doors, counter level heights, access to appliances, light switches, power plugs, safety rails where needed,” Ence said. “All of those kinds of things become more important as a person is older and has to deal with the challenges of balancing and just general mobility.”
Beyond the design of a home, Ence emphasized the importance of accessibility to needed services, such as transportation, medical care, food, and a sociable community.
“Social isolation is one of the greatest health risks we face going forward,” Ence said. “The communities we think of in the future as people get older, we want to make sure we find ways to prevent and watch our for circumstances of social isolation. That we keep connected with each other.”
Already there are a handful of communities in Utah with homes designed for an older population. Chris Gamvroulas, president of Ivory Development at Ivory Homes, said the size of Ivory Home’s communities simply depends on the project. For example, a community in Lehi holds about 220 homes, whereas a Lindon community holds 63, and an Orem community holds just 30. The needs of an older population when it comes to resources, Gamvroulas said, play heavily into the design of these types of communities, which Ivory Homes has built or is building up and down the Wasatch Front.
“We try to be very thoughtful about where they’re placed,” he said. “We really believe that with the aging demographic ... these lifestyle choices and housing choices, there’s opportunities everywhere for them.”
In age-targeted and age-restricted communities like the ones developed by Ivory Homes, Gamvroulas said the homes are typically smaller, so utilities cost less and there are often fully maintained yards. House designs, if they are more than one story, still have all necessities on the first floor so residents don’t have to climb stairs often, and generally the communities have some kind of “lifestyle programming.”
“There are a lot of social reasons to be in those communities,” Gamvroulas said.
As a side benefit, as older people move into these newer communities that require less upkeep, it makes way for younger people or families to move into the homes they vacate.
“It opens up existing inventory that wouldn’t otherwise be available,” Gamvroulas said.
As the popularity of age-targeted and age-restricted communities rises, the popularity of assisted-living centers isn’t necessarily seeing the same kind of growth. According to Rebecca Landau, a consultant for Summerfield retirement, many assisted living centers have an overabundance of beds.
“It’s extremely competitive,” Landau said.
Besides their housing, the activities of people reaching traditional “retirement age” are changing as well — many are choosing to return to the workforce, either part-time, or to start second careers, which is good for the economy but may present different challenges for employers.
Retirees in the workforce
“A significant portion of the over 65 population who had retired have gone back to work,” Ence said. “No. 1 reason is they economically have to. They don’t have enough resources to survive or maintain a standard of living.”
But for some retirees, going back to work or diving into volunteerism is just a way to stay active.
“Another reason is that people just do it because they have something to offer,” Ence said. “They don’t want to be idle.”
Retirees looking to enter the workforce may come up against discrimination, but Ence and Susan Hornbuckle, vice president of customer and talent engagement at Kelly Services, said age discrimination is an unfair bias.
“Just because you’re 65, doesn’t mean you’re less capable,” Ence said. “In some cases, you may be more capable, depending on the task.”
Both Ence and Hornbuckle urge employers to look past age and look for potential retirees to simply demonstrate competency.
“There’s a work ethic that exists among that (65 and older) group that we don’t see as often today,” Hornbuckle said. “That alone brings a tremendous amount of value.”
With Utah County’s tight labor market, Hornbuckle added, employers don’t really have a choice if they need to augment their staffing needs. One think employers might fear is whether or not their older employees will integrate well with technology — but Hornbuckle said in general, she hasn’t seen any problems because of a gap in knowledge or technology usage when it comes to bringing older people back into the workplace. Hornbuckle said she also hasn’t seen any issues when it comes to integrating older workers in with other, younger employees, even management.
“They’re not disconnected from the younger generations like we assume that they are,” Hornbuckle said. “Remember, they have children and grandchildren that are in those younger generations so they’ve had to learn to live with and connect with, live and work with other generations in a social setting or in a family setting. It’s not exactly foreign to them.”
The one challenge employers do face, Hornbuckle said, is getting job openings in front of retirees. She advises meeting them where they’re at.
“Go into the community,” Hornbuckle said. “Are they playing Bunco on Monday night at some community hall, or are they at a concert. Find where the group has lunches and then just be present in those places.”
Additional benefits, Hornbuckle said, include a more well-rounded workforce and a boost to the economy, where more people are earning wages that then are fed back into the community through their purchases.
“The effect that has, it’s just multi-beneficial,” she said. “Just about every employer that I’ve worked with or those that I’ve talked to, I can see benefits.”
Retirees’ well being
While it may not have the massive retirement communities like The Villages in Florida with their numerous golf courses, swimming pools and nightlife, or the welcoming beaches of Southern California, Utah has been ranked as one of the best states for older Americans to live in. That, in part, is due to the outdoor recreation opportunities and the many indoor activities afforded them by local senior centers.
Unlike days of yore, seniors of all retirement ages and financial statuses are utilizing civic senior centers at a growing rate.
“Seniors don’t want to be treated as seniors,” said Scott Henderson, director of the Provo Parks and Recreation Department. “We have 2,500 of 60 years-plus seniors, who are members of the overall rec center and are utilizing it just like the 20-year-olds. It is an amazing trend.”
Before the new recreation center was built, Provo had the aging Eldred Senior Center that was a detached building from any other form of recreation or activity. Henderson said over the past decade attendance at the Eldred Center was trending downward. With the senior center attached to the new rec center, the trend reversed itself almost immediately.
Lunch is offered every day and there are a myriad of dynamic senior programs to choose from, according to Alicia Christensen, program supervisor.
Christensen said she sees two generations of seniors. There are the older, slower seniors on lower or fixed incomes that come to the center for a meal and visiting — maybe a bingo game or craft. Then there are the younger seniors who are looking for life enrichment activities; their life is looking to the future and keeping lively and relevant in the community.
“We offer a lot of different needs and reach a lot of people,” Christensen said. “We are seeing more seniors participate in classes.”
In Provo, before the rec center there were up to 700 seniors with annual memberships at the Eldred Center with about 200 regulars. Now there are 2,500 pass holders and much of those passes are in some measure paid for by the senior’s insurance.
“We’ve grown all over the map,” Christensen said.
Gena Bertlesen, director of the Senior Friendship Center in Orem, said she has people coming in every week to check out the place and what they have to offer. Some say they are moving to Orem, others say they just recently moved here to be with kids and grandkids.
“Family seems to be the biggest motivator for seniors moving in,” Bertlesen said.
Bertlesen said when she started in 2012, there were 99 people on average attending daily. In 2018, there were 439 average daily attending. There are 3,500 on the rolls with 2,500 active seniors. That means they have signed up for meals, to take a class or take one of the many day trips offered.
“We have in Orem 15,000 seniors 55 and over. There are many more seniors that could enjoy our services.”
Bertlesen isn’t ashamed to say that while Provo has a greater population by about 20,000, the Orem Friendship Center has the greater and fastest growing senior center in the county.
Yearly memberships at the Senior Friendship Center are $10 a year; participants pay for meals, which are a nominal fee depending on the menu.
Bertlesen said that active seniors want to be sociable. Like Provo, Bertlesen said there are seniors who come for a good meal and to meet friends, some who are lower income folks, but they also have many seniors who could go to the country club but choose to be there.
“We have very wealthy people here,” Bertlesen said. “They take classes and want to be with people. Seniors who don’t check us out have no idea what they’re missing. It’s like the TV show ‘Cheers,’ we don’t have the bar but we have the smile. It’s where everybody knows your name.”
Bertlesen said the Friendship Center is there to add to the seniors’ quality of life.
“Social media is taking away that visiting we used to know,” Bertlesen said. “It’s of big importance hearing your name every day.”
She adds that one of the reasons why the center membership continues to grow is because people a living healthier and longer lives.
Aside from the large groups in Provo and Orem, there are other senior centers throughout the county with varying open hours and some are restricted to just a couple of days a week. There are currently senior centers in Lindon, Springville, American Fork, Spanish Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lehi, Payson, Goshen, Santaquin and Eagle Mountain.
Earlier this month, a public school student in Utah County created a presentation on Navajo code talkers for a class assignment, as a way of recognizing National Native American Heritage Month.
As the student attempted to give her presentation, she was stopped by her teacher.
“A Utah educator actually … right out said, ‘That never happened. I just can’t validate that that event ever happened. You have to redo your research,’” said Meredith Lam, a member of the Diné tribe, also known as the Navajo tribe.
When Lam, the Provo City School District’s Title VI director, heard about the incident, she was stunned.
“We’re in 2019 — how can you not know about Navajo code talkers?” she said. “And coming from a state where we’ve had Navajo code talkers living in our state, it was a bit shocking.”
Naturally, making sure similar incidents don’t happen again amongst Provo schools is a heightened task during the month of November.
“I call them tales and fables, because they are,” Lam said of the historically incorrect accounts of the first Thanksgiving often told in and out and schools. “The mainstream society perspective of history has not always been correct. We’ve gotta hear both sides of the story.”
Lam and Brian Yazzie, the district’s diversity and equity coordinator, are leading a push to “decolonize curriculum,” especially in history class.
“We’re trying to break the old traditions of those tales and fables about Thanksgiving, and this new curriculum gives teachers a better perspective about what really happened from the indigenous perspective,” Lam said.
Yazzie, a member of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, said he can remember being taught about Indians and pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving dinner in school as a child.
“And how it was portrayed was really not accurate,” he said. “The story was told improperly.”
The school district’s revamped curriculum, among other efforts the Title XI office is making, are in place to “make sure we’re being culturally sensitive, to make sure we we’re also teaching all of our students the proper perspective of what these holidays are or these celebrations are about or even the people itself, that we’re not stereotyping,” Yazzie said.
Lam explained that Native Americans’ relationship with Thanksgiving can be both good and bad, and can be different between the hundreds of federally-recognized tribes across the country.
For some Native Americans, like the Wampanoag tribe, Thanksgiving is a time of mourning, as many Natives recognize the time marks mass genocide, diseases and being forced out of their homelands, she said.
“But as a whole, we recognize what our ancestors did for us. We recognize the sacrifices, the resiliency to stay alive for future generations,” Lam said. “There is so much to be thankful for, there really is.”
Yazzie said that while there is a sense of mourning, overall he sees his fellow Native Americans celebrating during this time of the year.
“That’s what this particular month is now, I think it’s a celebration of our people, our ancestors who made many sacrifices,” he said.
Lam, Yazzie, and UVU’s Native American Initiative program director Ken Sekaquaptewa, each brought up the tradition of having students cut out paper feathers and create headdresses, buck fringe and other things in mimicry of Native American culture when teaching Thanksgiving-themed lessons.
“It’s hard for Native people sometimes to see their stereotypes in elementary school,” Sekaquaptewa said. “There are things that are sacred in Native culture that shouldn’t be depicted in that way. Headdresses are sacred. People sometimes think they can take things from culture and make them for themselves, and it’s a matter of education and knowing what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”
Sekaquaptewa, of the Hopi tribe, said this avoidance of stereotyping should be kept in mind not just during Thanksgiving but with Native things in everyday culture.
“We’re not people’s costumes,” he said. “We’re a culture, and there should be respect of cultural traditions.”
“I think a lot of it is people just need to take the time to learn, to try to take opportunities of special events that may happen,” Yazzie said, adding that in Utah County, there are several Native American public events throughout the year, especially in November. “I think that if people would take the time to really learn about the cultures of not only Native Americans but just people in general, I think that would help. And that includes all people … it’s really critical for us to take the time to educate and not go on assumptions.”
Lam also suggested that the community can help their Native American neighbors by trying to learn, both by researching and attending events.
“We just had an Indigenous Celebration Day back in October, and we had an amazing turnout, and the community was able to kind of step inside and see what the indigenous community is striving for,” Lam said.
Sekaquaptewa said his department makes frequent efforts to partner with community groups to educate people about Native American history and culture, which helps to overcome stereotypes.
“Historically, I think in many situations, we come across people who think that Native people don’t exist anymore, and it’s all due to the lack of teaching Indian history in the schools,” Sekaquaptewa said. “History books are written by the people who won the battles, and so it’s from a perspective that’s a non-Indian perspective. So we try to let people know that there’s another side of the story.”
“It’s all about educating each other and learning from each other and celebrating each other. It makes us better people,” Yazzie said.
Provo City School District and Nebo School District both reached 100% graduation rates last school year, thanks to the efforts made by Title XI departments. Lam said when she first started in Provo’s department several years ago, she remembers the graduation rate for Native American students was around 50%.
“I think what we’re doing here in the state of Utah has been breakthrough,” Lam said.
The Provo City School District was nationally recognized for its Title XI work at the National Indian Education conference in October. Lam and Yazzie were invited to present their K-12 curriculum development and system of supporting teachers to help adjust to the changes.
“The whole movement now in education, especially Indian education, is decolonizing our curriculum, making sure that the indigenous voice is being heard, and that perspective is being presented,” Lam said.
Another effort Yazzie said the district is making is forming advisory committees to represent each group of families of color.
“To have their perspectives is really important for us to make sure we’re doing all we can,” he said. “Myself, as a Native American, I can definitely tell you the perspective of a Native American. But I can’t tell you what it’s like to be an African American. I don’t understand that. That’s why these committees are really important to us as a district, to get their perspective.
The pioneering effort they’re making puts Utah in a great light, Lam said.
“Could we do better with Indian affairs? Yes, most definitely,” Lam said. “We’re not perfect. We still have a long way to go. But I love that this district has embodied and really fostered that breakthrough, and I think it’s something we should be really proud of as a community.”
American Indians and Alaskan Natives make up only 0.5% of Utah County’s population, according to the 2018 Utah County Community Assessment. But even with their small numbers, Yazzie said Native families contribute greatly to the community.
“They (Native Americans) are very passionate, very caring people. They love their children. They love their families,” he said. “They bring the joy of life, they definitely bring a sense of community, because it’s definitely important in our culture to support one another, to care for one another, to look out for each other.”
Yazzie said many Native families in Utah County are very willing to share their culture with others, but they also want to be respected as fellow people making up the area’s community.
“I think that’s important, that we’re not just a figure,” he said. “We are people, we are a vital part of the community, and we do have important attributes to the community.”
Lam said community is at the heart of Native American culture.
“I feel like we have the best group of Native community members here in Utah,” she said. “They shed light. Diversity is such an asset in the community.”
It goes both ways, Lam said: Native Americans have a lot to offer the community, but they are also grateful for support from the community.
“I will always be grateful for that support,” she said. “It’s hard to be a pioneer, it’s hard to be the first. But it also takes courage, and it’s brave, and I think that those our all words of all our Native community here: brave, courageous and very loving, very inclusive and accepting.”
Sekaquaptewa said he has felt a great support from UVU and the community in his position.
“We try to let people know that Indians are still here today, we are a living and thriving culture, we have worthwhile things to contribute and share with the mainstream community,” he said.
Lam said a big part of the Title XI initiative in Provo City School district revolves around helping students to be able to “share their culture and be able to preserve traditions” and to “be able to express their cultural identity in an academic setting.”
Urban Native Americans do not have natural day-to-day exposure with their group at large, as opposed to Native Americans who live on a reservation, Lam explained, making it even more vital to preserve that culture in schools.
“They’re not being supported in their cultural identity, or with knowing their history or their language, which is vital and very important and the whole point of Indian education grants like Title XI,” Lam said. “We recognize, and the U.S. Department of Education recognizes, that sustaining that identity, that cultural identity, is pivotal and very important to their development in educational settings and success.”
Lam believes this effort in K-12 fosters a Native American cultural identity throughout the rest of the students’ adult lives.
“We don’t’ want them coming to school feeling like they have to shed who they are when they walk through the school doors,” she said. “We want them to be proud of being American Indians and to be proud of who they are, and to make sure they hold onto that, because they don’t have to change. That makes them beautiful, that makes them them, so we want to support and cultivate that.”
Whether you start preparing for Christmas as you put away ghosts and goblins of Halloween or you wait until Turkey Day is over, Christmas is officially upon us and that means enjoying the sights, sounds and even tastes of the season.
Our Ultimate Holiday Bucket List has a wide variety of ways to celebrate the season, but there are some events, displays or projects that are iconic to Utah County this time of year, ones that everyone should try at least once.
“Luminaria” is entering its fourth year at Thanksgiving Point, and has grown since its inception in 2016.
To call Luminaria a light display wouldn’t do it justice. The event includes a mile-long walk decorated with lighted luminaries, and includes The Grand Allee’s 6,500 programmable luminaries along a hill that together depict a movie picture of the symbols of the season.
Along with the luminary displays, the event has a 120-foot Christmas tree, a nativity scene with glowing lanterns, peaceful music and 35 monument-sized bronze sculptures depicting the life of Jesus Christ.
Each year that “Luminaria” has been held, additions have been made to the event, and this year is no exception. New to “Luminaria” is the Aqueous display by the Jen Lewin Studio, which is described as an “interactive landscape of meandering pathways of light.”
Spanish Fork ‘Festival of Lights’ One of the longer-standing Christmas traditions in Utah County is in Spanish Fork where you can visit the “Festival of Lights.” The event is in its 27th year and features a drive-through display of Christmas lights.
The decorations change year-to-year so that annual visitors can see something new each season, but the displays every year include large-scale figures made from Christmas lights. The display is also set to coincide with music on the radio station 99.7 FM.
Spanish Fork Mayor Steve Leifson said last Christmas that, “It is one of the most popular Christmas light drive-thrus in Utah County due to its consistency and always affordable admission. With more than a million lights, the ‘Festival of Lights’ is sure to become one of your favorite holiday traditions.”
‘Pond Town Christmas’ In Salem, you can see an almost magical sight with the city’s annual “Pond Town Christmas” lights. The display features Christmas trees floating on the pond at Knoll Park, and runs each year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
Daily Herald records show that the tradition started in 2000 with the first lighted pond display.
For 16 years, locals have flocked to Alpine to see the Alpine Living Nativity, which has grown tremendously in popularity since its inception. The first year, the event had about 300 visitors and grew to more than 20,000 each Christmas season.
This year, though, the iconic event will not be held. According to the group’s website, they were in need of a new location to host the nativity scene — and they found that location.
“But with the move we still have a lot of work ahead of us and will be unable to finish by December,” the website said. The group plans to be back up and running for Christmas in 2020.
But not to worry, there are other living nativities that you can check out in Utah County in its absence, and one — “A Babe is Born,” located in Lehi — is helping by donating funds to charitable organizations sponsored by The Alpine Living Nativity this year while it is closed.
So, whether you participate in one of these events, or one of the others on our Ultimate Holiday Bucket List, may you be able to enjoy the spirit and feel the magic of the season.