Rifle gym works with underprivileged, at-risk kids
After losing his job, Rifle’s Billy Williams was at a crossroads.
Not knowing what to do next, Williams turned to his two children for what to do next, asking them what they wanted to do.
“My daughter wanted to do gymnastics, and my son wanted to start doing MMA [mixed martial arts],” Williams said. “From there, I just had an idea to open up a gym for kids and families to come and train. There was nothing in the valley in terms of MMA training, so we decided to just open up our own place.”
That idea led to the opening of Flex Family Fitness in Rifle, right across the street from the Brenden Rifle Theater on West Second Street.
There, Williams’ main focus is on teaching and working with at-risk kids, through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He, along with coach Thomas Uylenbroek — a Jiu-Jitsu instructor that Williams hired from the Netherlands — has helped morph the gym from a small, family-oriented operation into a valleywide gym that works with a number of at-risk and underprivileged kids through MMA.
“We didn’t have this sort of thing when I was a kid,” Williams said. “I was an at-risk kid who found himself in a lot of tough spots, so I wanted to work with kids like that in the valley.”
While growing up, Williams said he had gyms in the area that he couldn’t attend because they didn’t have the money and his didn’t wouldn’t sign the waiver to let him in.
“But I’d sit outside and watch through the window,” he said. “That’s where my mentality comes from. I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing this for the kids. I want to give them an opportunity to be part of something — help build them up and give them something productive to do.”
While giving them something to do, Williams and Uylenbroek have been able to expand through the school system, bringing in kids from Parachute, Rifle and Glenwood Springs, as well as Silt and New Castle. Williams added that the gym has also recently started working with special needs children, with a class expected to open next month.
“We’re going to teach them how to use a speed bag and other things like that,” Williams said. “Again, we just want to help build them up.”
Additionally, Williams and Uylenbroek are partnering with Garfield District 16 during the school year, working with a group of at-risk middle school kids in the Well Springs program.
The sport of MMA can be considered violent, especially from the fighting seen on television, but there’s much more to the age-old sport, they said.
It can teach discipline, most of all, which is a huge help to at-risk children, giving them a sense of purpose and structure. That alone can really turn an at-risk child’s life around. That’s been the aim for Williams and Uylenbroek.
“It’s been great so far,” said Uylenbroek, who moved from the Netherlands to Rifle after his home washed away in a flood. “I’ve seen these kids go from not knowing anything about the sport at all, to being really good at it. But with some of the kids, I’ve seen them go from being really shy and hiding in the corner, to going to the top of the class. It’s been great to see them really open up.
“This sport is my passion; I’m so happy to be able to spread this passion and make an impact in this community.”
The gym hosts Jiu-Jitsu classes for kids from 4:30–5:45 p.m. every day. Soon, they’ll expand into family classes in MMA, Zumba, and many other fitness classes.
For now, though, Williams and Uylenbroek are focused on making an impact one child at a time through the growing sport.
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