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.