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.”

For more information on Maximus Boxing Academy, go to https://maximusbg18.wixsite.com/mysite or follow on Instagram at @mbg.utah and @aaronmaximusgarcia.