A Benefit for Those who have Benefited so Many – the RomulosNovember 16, 2012
Two years ago, you would have found Muay Thai champion Chris Romulo putting the finishing touches on his new gym, Crom Martial Training. “All it takes is heart” was the motto visible everywhere you looked.
But it was more than a motto – it was a foreshadowing of the trials yet to come. It foretold the true heart and soul that would rise out of the rubble of Hurricane Sandy, the heart to rebuild a gym that was the definition of “life” to so many.
Within 24 hours, Hurricane Sandy demolished the livelihoods of many in Rockaway, NY. Among them was the Romulos’ home and the gym they built with their students just two years before.
Justin Blair and The Friday Night Fights Muay Thai team heard this news, and immediately stepped forward. In a gesture designed to help Crom get back on its feet and get the Romulos’ a home again, a benefit has been put together. The benefit will take place at the Broad Street Ballroom on Saturday, December 15th , and will feature a full fight card, a silent auction and other fundraising activities. The event will offer table service as well as premium and general admission ticketing.
“In addition to being a fan of Chris Romulo, he and his wife Sarah are also close friends of ours,” said Blair. “The benefit event is called ‘Fight for Rockaway: A Special Event to benefit Crom Martial Training and the Romulo family.’”
Romulo said, “I will be helping to promote this, and I will have a couple of fighters on the show. And I will train them in their living rooms if I have to!”
Besides their common interests in the Muay Thai community, Blair and Romulo have a friendship that extends 15 years.
“I used to fight in his shows back in the day when they were in the basement in his gym, Church Street Boxing. Justin was a witness when I first met my wife, who was training at Church Street herself. He watched my son Jube grow up from when he was 2 years old, bouncing around at Church Street, watching me train.
“Now he is 15 years old! Also, my wife and I have a 16 month old, who would spend every day in the gym with us for hours, trying to shadowbox and doing pushups. I guess Justin has seen my family grow so to speak, which is pretty nice,” said Chris.
“We were very fortunate to have Chris compete for us for so many years, and I’d like to think that our professional relationship reflected the mutual respect and appreciation we had (and still have) for one another as friends,” Blair said.
“Chris Romulo will always remain FNF’s premier ‘franchise player’,” said Blair. “Chris personifies so many of the qualities that fans of the sport of Muay Thai respect – dignity, class, honor, sportsmanship and a sense of community.
“Chris was and remains a member of our close-knit team at FNF that identifies and values these attributes. We’re honored for the opportunity to participate in organizing the benefit event in his honor.”
The benefit event isn’t just to help out the Romulos. The event will set into motion the rebuilding of a gym that has positively affected the lives of so many.
A gym, where now, there is nothing left to salvage.
Crom instructor Eddie Marini (who also happens to be the Event Director for Friday Night Fights) said, “The gym is like a home away from home. This isn’t just about Chris as an individual, it’s about what he and Sarah did for the community. They brought hope and a positive energy to an area that seemed to be forgotten.”
Gym member and FNF Athletic Coordinator, David Sanchez felt the weight of the loss of the gym as well. “I lived around the corner from the gym,” said Sanchez. “Crom was my home, my escape. Crom was my refuge.”
Gym owner Sarah Romulo describes Crom’s beginnings. “We opened our location exactly two years ago to the day when Sandy rolled through — pretty ironic!” she said. “We built that gym with our bare hands, with help from friends, family and students.
“We gutted the place — there wasn’t even electric, period. We ripped the plaster off of the walls to expose the brick, and built a homemade ring and pull-up bars. It was a very special place.
“Before that we taught neighborhood folks Muay Thai on the boardwalk, which is sadly no longer there.”
Crom MT also works with the Muay Thai Preservation Project to keep local kids off the streets.
“There really aren’t many options for the youth out here in Rockaway,” said Sarah. “Kids come in and use our training facility to build their minds, bodies and spirits, to give them tools to use in the outside world.
“Chris became a spokesperson for the national Anti-bullying campaign “We’re Kickin’ It” a few years back,” continued Sarah. “We go around to schools in the Tri-State area, speaking to kids about bullying and finding help. About learning how to deal with your feelings and finding a passion.”
With so much dedication to the people they serve, the Romulos put time in to protecting the gym before Hurricane Sandy hit.
“With Hurricane Irene, we had virtually no flooding at all, so we weren’t super concerned,” said Chris. “We were anticipating that if there was flooding, it would come up less than a foot.”
What resulted was far worse than any of them could have ever imagined.
“The whole community was destroyed,” said Marini. “There was not one person that lives on that peninsula that wasn’t affected in one form or another. Afterwards, I remember grabbing my gl
oves off of the wall in the gym and thinking, “The water was that high? Damn!” They were about five feet up on the wall, and they were at least a foot or so under the water line. The water was above the ring ropes.”
“Going back to Rockaway for the first time after the storm was very difficult for me,” said Sanchez. “Rockaway was the only place my family has ever called home. The boardwalk that I did most of my “firsts” on was now outside of my window.
“Power lines and destroy
ed cars were randomly placed, as if my kids were playing in their rooms. Miles of sand that we all used to laze around on was now covering every section of pavement on the peninsula.
“Walking into the gym for the first time was just as hard,” said Sanchez. “I actually couldn’t muster up the strength to be there for too long…I was too emotional.
“To see the mats that you labored with your brothers on for hours on top of hours, just covered in mud…and the gear that brought so many people freedom and peace, pu
t out on the ground like it was out of a scene from CSI, was too much for me.”
The Romulos discovered their home to be uninhabitable. “Everything was turned upside down and mud was everywhere,” said Sarah.
“When we finally got to the gym, we found a water line of close to 6 feet on the walls. Every last item in the gym was destroyed, except for our Buddha and shrine. Everything had to be thrown out. The walls were shredded in areas and the sewage was washed up on our floors.”
“The gym was pretty heartbreaking,” said Chris. “Everything we did to build it, turning a dusty old broken-down building into a vibrant space for the community to learn the art that I love so much! Our home was sad, but all of those possessions can be replaced.”
But the Muay Thai community was quick to respond to their need for help. Gym owners and members arrived immediately with food, tools, replacement items and helping hands to clear out the debris.
“People we barely know have opened their hearts to us!” said Sarah. “Through all of this adversity, that has truly lifted us up and helped us though these challenges.”
The benefit will take place at the Broad Street Ballroom on Saturday, December 15th , and will feature a full fight card, a silent auction and other fundraising activities. The event will offer both table service as well as premium and general admission ticketing.
The drive to get Crom Martial Training revived is immense.
“I can’t imagine the Rockaways without Crom Martial Training,” said Marini, “just like I can’t imagine Muay Thai without Chris Romulo.”
Sanchez said, “Rockaway is going to come back bigger and better than it was. To steal the words given to me by Chris, when I was grieving over my community, ‘Rockaway is not done. It’s just an 8-count. It will get back up.’”
Fight for Rockaway: A Special Event Benefiting CROM Martial Training and the Romulo Family
Broad Street Ballroom
41 Broad Street
Between Beaver Street & Exchange Place
New York City
Doors open at 7pm