AUSTIN, Texas - Paulena Miles, a member of the East Austin Montopolis Boxing Club, is only 13 years old and already making history in a sport she’s been in less than five years.
"It just helps when I put the gloves on, it helps protect my knuckles and stuff and I just got taught to wrap my hands this way," Miles says in a soft tone. Wrapping up is part of her pre-workout routine, typically lasting two hours a day.
Her love for boxing started at an early age, thanks in part to her mom and dad.
"My parents just always loved boxing and when I got old enough, they decided to just put me in there and then I fell in love with it," Miles says in between taking jabs at a punching bag nearly three times her size.
Home videos from mom and dad show Paulena practicing her jabs in front of a TV match at just 8 years old, she was inches shorter, but she still packs a punch!
"I'm just doing what I like to do, you know," Miles says when asked what sparked her interest in the sport.
Her coach Zack Martinez sees it as a mission accomplished. He’s glad her only reason for being in the sport is because she likes it.
Martinez remembers growing up around areas of East Austin with poverty and crime. He wonders if his friends would’ve had an opportunity like Paulena, what they could’ve been.
Now, he’s determined Hispanic youth are seen as more than just statistics or "at-risk" youth.
"In the areas they live in, even though it can happen anywhere, the chances are unfortunately higher where a lot of these youth come from," Martinez says. "So, a lot of the youth I get I don't charge for the classes, so it's all volunteer."
Paulena is one of the lucky ones. She says she’s grateful to have mom and dad in her life.
"There's a lot of people who go down the wrong path, and I'm just glad that I have parents that keep me straight and on the right path," Paulena says.
It’s a path this young Latina knows she's paving, with nothing to hold her back.
"Hopefully I want to go pro, I want to make it, I would like to go to the Olympics," Miles says timidly with a smile.
While this young woman is soft-spoken in tone, it’s a reminder actions speak louder than words.
"As long as we keep learning and growing, and not stay in one place, whatever goal she has, I know she can reach," Martinez says proudly.
The team is raising money to get to the tournaments, you can donate via Venmo to her coach here.