BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Bruce Gillin continues to ‘knock out’ autism between the ropes at RGV Elite Boxing.

The 17-year-old was born with autism, the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability. It affects approximately 1 in every 36 children.

“It impairs their ability to communicate and interact with others,” said Nelly Gracia, mother of Bruce Gillin. “He does go to speech therapy twice a week. He’s been doing that since he was three years old, and he still continues to go. It’s a slow process, but he’s getting there.” 

It’s been a long journey for Bruce. His disability was not getting any better as a child, so Nelly decided to put him into sports.

Bruce tried karate and swimming, and neither seemed to improve his condition.

Nelly then called a childhood friend who runs a boxing gym in Brownsville, Texas.

Courtesy: Nelly Gracia

“She told me Rudy, this is my son, Bruce, and he’s autistic,” said Rudy Juarez, owner of RGV Elite Boxing. “He’s very antisocial, he doesn’t like too much noise, and I wanted to see if you can work with him, see what you can do.”

Rudy was introduced to Bruce in 2018. At first, Bruce was still timid and shy of the other boxers in the gym.

As time went on, Bruce became more comfortable and really took to the sport of boxing.

Since 2018, he has not missed one training session.

“Now he doesn’t have a problem getting up there and fighting with another kid or another opponent,” said Gracia. “He loves it. Sparring is his thing.”

Not only has the gym changed Bruce’s attitude, he’s also changed the lives of others at the gym.

“I’m just thankful that his mother gave me the chance and the confidence so I can work with him,” said Juarez. “I found something new. To be able to work with kids with special needs, man, it’s one of my passions.”

Bruce has given other sports a try since he began training at RGV Elite Boxing. 

He won a gold medal at the Special Olympics as part of the 400 meter relay team, representing Brownsville Veterans High School.

Courtesy: Nelly Gracia

Prior to training, Juarez said, “he never ran before he came to train at my gym.”

Nelly said “now, running is one of Bruce’s favorite things to do.”

It is safe to say, Bruce has found his passion.

“He’s become a social butterfly here. He loves it. He loves Coach Rudy, the kids are always helping him out, and he’s happy. That’s all I want. He’s happy,” said Gracia.