‘He Saved My Life': Boxing Legend Opens Gym for Homeless

A chance encounter changed the course of Mia St. John's life when she was at her lowest

In Mia St. John's world, when you get knocked down, you get back up.

The California boxing legend and five-time world champion ended her career with a 49-19-2 record, but her most heartbreaking loss happened outside of the ring.

Her son Julian, a compassionate street artist whose schizophrenia led to periods of homelessness, committed suicide a few days before Thanksgiving in 2014. His death sent St. John to a dark place where she considered taking her own life, but a chance encounter with a homeless man inspired her to create a boxing space in Julian's honor.

"All I wanted to do was be with my son. All I wanted to do was just go find him and be his mother, and so taking my life was the only option I thought I had," St. John said.

On the day she planned to end her life, she met a homeless man named Nate who changed everything.

"Finally one day I was so distraught and I was thinking, today will be the day I take my life. And I saw Nate looking at me and I just stopped and looked at him. I said, Are you OK,' and he said 'Yeah, but I could sure use a polar pop,'" St. John recalled.

Nate's humor broke her inner struggle and reconnected her with Julian's compassion for the homeless — he used to remind his mother that homeless people were just like him.

"What [Nate] probably didn't know was that he saved my life that day because I realized that was my son coming to me and telling me, 'I'm still here,'" St. John said.

She invited Nate and others from a homeless shelter in Palm Springs to sparring lessons. With the help of her daughter Paris, she later converted Julian's nearby art studio into a free, non-contact boxing space for the homeless.

"I just wanted to make such a difference in the way that I couldn't make for my brother because it was already too late," Paris said.

Participants said the program offers an escape from their problems and gives them a place to heal.

"You're not stuck in your head, you're not worrying about problems or things you have — for that moment, you're just focusing on what you're doing," said one student, named Thomas.

Contact Us