Rashiem Jefferson is a prime example of Philly toughness.
His rugged exterior helped him get off to a promising start in his boxing career, and now serves him as a trainer.
But this wasn’t the plan. That was altered one night in 2008. Jefferson was on his motorcycle, speeding down 20th & Allegheny when he wrecked it. Just like that, his boxing career was over. He suffered traumatic brain injuries, broke his neck and needed screws put in his C6 and C7 cervical disks. Doctors didn’t believe he’d walk again.
Jefferson had a 15-1-1 record at the time and was an 11-time national champion in amateurs.
“At that point in my life, I just felt like giving up,” Jefferson said. “I never thought about being a trainer. I was supposed to be that gift to boxing.”
Months later Jefferson was mobile with the assistance of a walker. He had defied the odds with a rod in his spine. His next step was walking with a cane, then learning to walk in a straight line again. About a year and a half after the accident, he was back walking on his own.
But Jefferson wanted to be back in boxing, so he had to make an adjustment. He had to learn to sit on the front row at boxing matches, not on a stool between rounds. He needed to put the pads on to help others, not hit them. He had to bark out directions, not take instruction.
Life had different plans, and Jefferson’s new hobby is just as impactful in the Philly boxing community as his fighting past.
He’s training boxers at the Paul Kroll Gym every morning at 9. He takes a quick break at 3 p.m. to pick his kids up from school and then he’s right back at it until 8 p.m. Early in the day he spends time with the pros and the later hours he trains the kids.
“It’s a joy that nobody can take from me,” Jefferson said. “Seeing the kids smile with their hands raised and even seeing them frown when they lose, that boosts me up to say, ‘We got to get back in the gym and work.’ It’s not just joy in winning, it’s joy in learning.”
Around 30 kids hit bags, throw jabs, run treadmills and more during Jefferson’s work hours. It’s organized chaos. During a session Jefferson bounces from fighter to fighter with instructions as they’re all drenched in sweat. He’s tough on them. There’s no slacking. If you don’t work, you will get put out.
The method works. Jefferson trains some of Philly’s best rising boxers. Kroll, who owns the gym, is an undefeated welterweight who has a strong case to be regarded as the second-best welterweight in Philly behind Jaron Ennis. Quadir Albright is 3-0 with three knockouts, and Joshafat Ortiz is 7-0 with four knockouts. Several of Jefferson’s amateurs are ranked highly in their weight divisions and hold national titles.
“He’s always on [you],” Albright said. “He’s gonna work you. It takes a strong person to be with him. We work hard, but he tries to add the fun to it.”
However, the most recognizable face at Paul Kroll Gym might be Jefferson’s son, Rashiem Jefferson Jr. He hit the ground running with a 6-0 record as a super featherweight.
When Jefferson sees his son box, it provides a moment of satisfaction, but it took time for him to see it that way. Jefferson didn’t want to let go of his own career, and it made him blind to the ambition and passion that his son showed for the same sport.
After years of cajoling, Jefferson finally agreed to train his son, who is now dominating guys on ESPN with his father in the corner.
”It’s some rough roads, but at the end of the day, it’s the best thing,” Jefferson Jr. said of training with his father. “I feel like he’s the only one that can push those certain buttons that I need to be pushed.”
“I just want him to stay focused and surpass what I’ve done,” Jefferson said. “The vision is for my son to be better than me. Everything I was looking for in boxing, I hope he gets.”
Jefferson got into boxing through a program at EW Rhodes Middle School that allowed kids to train at Joe Frazier’s gym. That’s where he met Philadelphia boxing coach Howard Mosley, who constantly challenged him. Jefferson remembers moments when he’d walk from school and see Mosley’s van parked right outside his home, but he’d run the other way. He wanted to play with other kids before training.
“Howard Mosley gave [boxing] to me, so I want to give it back to somebody else,” Jefferson said.
Now, boxing is embedded within the Jefferson family. In addition to his oldest son Jefferson Jr., there’s seven-year-old Raheem Jefferson, who has the fighting bug, too. The energetic Raheem threw combination punches as he pranced around while his father sat on a bench. He’s expected to start competing in December.
Jefferson loves what he’s doing now. On one hand, he keeps kids in the gym and off the streets. On the other, it’s Jefferson’s opportunity to mold champions and give back something that was taken from him.
His biggest motivation is getting his kids out of some of Philly’s troublesome neighborhoods. He also has another motivation.
“Seeing them top trainers that I really think are garbage, with all these world champions,” Jefferson said.