By John Joyce
Published in News on August 27, 2014 1:46 PM
Tricia Haigler created and owns Powerflow Fitness, a non-profit gym for children who cannot afford fitness classes or membership. Haigler put the gym together piece by piece from donations of equipment.
Bear Johnson, right, trains Diamond George in boxing at the Powerflow Fitness Center. Since joining the fitness center, Diamond has improved her physical fitness along with her behavior in school. Diamond hopes to compete in boxing in the future.
Diamond George stands before a Wayne County juvenile court charged with assaulting a teacher.
The judge asks if she feels any remorse.
The 11-year-old, uncertain, glances around the courtroom.
"No," she answers.
"I just shook my head," Tricia Haigler said. "She didn't know what the word means."
Ms. Haigler is the founder and operator of Powerflow Fitness, a community gym she opened in a downtown Goldsboro storefront in April.
Since then, she has become a mentor to many, including Diamond, whose family lives in government housing and does not have transportation.
"She's just seen so much. One day I picked her up and she said to me, 'Ms. Tricia, someone got shot last night," Ms. Haigler said.
She was with Diamond the day she went to court.
She asked the judge for permission to be heard and was allowed to speak on the girl's behalf.
Within a few minutes, and with a few stern words for Diamond, the judge dismissed the case.
"The judge said she would have convicted (Diamond) of a misdemeanor that was just one level below a felony. A felony, at 11 years old," Ms. Haigler said.
Something has to change, she said.
She hopes her new enterprise will be a first step.
Ms. Haigler is a disabled veteran turned entrepreneur who is knocking down doors -- and walls -- for Diamond and other kids like her.
And it is all happening at 126 E. Walnut St., at a place called Powerflow Fitness.
"We had to knock down a few walls, do a lot of painting," Ms. Haigler said.
She scored deals at Home Depot on gallons of paint that were marked down.
They were asking $10.
She talked them down to $5.
Ms. Haigler is teaching kids the meaning of perseverance and will through boxing, African dance and Latin rhythms, and through sharing with them each a little piece of herself.
"I have evolved, and as I have -- you have to help others because you see where you've been and you see where they are," she said.
Ms. Haigler served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves, as well as in the Army National Guard.
She is a single mother and a karate champion.
She is also a bargain shopper.
"I got this at the habitat store," she said pointing to the couch in her office.
And she reupholstered and painted the bar stools in the lobby.
Ms. Haigler said if it were not for the kindness of others Powerflow would not have been possible.
A man in Rocky Mount donated two Nautilus-style weightlifting stations to her after hearing about her gym.
She said he had them up for sale on the Internet when she first heard about them.
Someone called her and said she should look into it. When she heard how much he was asking for them, her heart sank.
"I just hung my head. I said, 'I can't afford that,'' she said.
The man, not wishing to be identified, loaded the machines up in his truck and drove them down to Walnut Street. No charge.
The rhythmic sound of tiny gloved-fists popping padded hands seeps into the hallway at Powerflow Fitness. The abandoned store-turned-gym is deeper than it is wide and is deceptively large.
The sounds belong to Diamond and her physical trainer, Bear Johnson, whom Ms. Haigler calls a Goldsboro legend.
If it's in anyway related to boxing or training in Goldsboro, Bear had something to do with it, she said.
Diamond's eyes are intensely focused on the targets being called out to her by Bear.
He calls the cadence by number and she throws the corresponding punches.
Jab. Two jabs. Jab, cross, hook -- duck a wide swinging pad thrown by Bear -- jab, jab, hook.
"I don't get in trouble anymore," she said.
She said her mother told her she's improved at home too, both in attitude and behavior. She does her chores without protest and she doesn't talk back as much.
The discipline of training with Bear and working out with Ms. Haigler has taught her to respect herself and others, she said between punches.
"I am learning self-defense, but I don't want to be a bully," she said.
Diamond said that bullying makes others feel like they are less than a human, and makes them feel bad inside.
Ms. Haigler can't help but smile.
Bear holds his pads up, tells Diamond to get back to work.
It is not everyday you see kids riding a horse in downtown Goldsboro.
But that is exactly what took place Aug. 16.
Powerflow Fitness hosted a cookout behind the buildings on East Walnut Street.
Powerflow clients and supporters came with their kids and other children from the neighborhoods expecting to eat, hang out and to have a good time.
Tony wasn't on the guest list.
"I wanted it to be a surprise for the children," Ms. Haigler said.
Tony is one of the horses owned by Ms. Haigler's mother and step father who live in Dudley. He stomped his hoof and shook his mane in protest a few times throughout the day, but for the most part the big white horse seemed to enjoy trotting up and down the grass-covered vacant lot next to her business.
The kids waited patiently for a turn -- sometimes two or three turns -- riding Tony and making the other kids laugh with silly faces from up on high.
It's something many of these kids have never done before, she said.
She said she hopes to eventually take the children she mentors on trips and to places out of town that will expose them to things about which they might not yet have even wondered, but first she wants them to see all of what Goldsboro has to offer.
Next week she is taking them to Chick-fil-A.
"There are kids here who have never been to Chick-fil-A, can you believe it? All they know is their neighborhood and the school they go to and that's it," Ms. Haigler said.
It is part of why she placed her business downtown, to be close to the toughest neighborhoods where kids don't have parents with the money or the means to send them to the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA.
Those places are great, she said, but not everybody can get to them.
Some of her kids can't walk to the rec. centers or parks around town because to do so they would have to walk through certain neighborhoods. Cutting through the wrong path can lead to trouble, or worse, violence.
Ms. Haigler said she hopes that by showing these kids that Goldsboro has more to offer, such as the Wayne County Arts Council and different restaurants, or the library, that they will open up to the possibilities of becoming more than just troubled youths trying to "make it out."
She's found that some of her kids can sing, or draw or have other talents lying below shy surfaces.
Ms. Haigler said she is open to suggestions, and new clients are always welcome. Classes range from $35 to $45 in most cases. Full price lists and schedules are available in the lobby of the business or online at powerflowfitness.org.
What she is really seeking are more positive things to expose the children to right here in Goldsboro.
"You have to know, I mean really know where you are from before you can know where you are going," she said.