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Reconnecting with trainers and friends in New York

With James ‘Country’ Thornwell at Gleason’s Gym, Brooklyn.

I closed the year with a trip to New York from October 22 to November 5 My trip was facilitated by Dan Barrett, a great friend I met three years earlier at Gleason’s Gym in New York. Barrett, an accomplished professional cellist who has composed chamber music works choreographed to Gleason’s Gym boxers’ routines, was gracious enough to put me up in his Upper Westside apartment, giving me the true New York experience of writers and artists making due in the City of cities as I visited not only Gleason’s, but a good ten Manhattan gyms and Woodside Boxing Academy in Queens.

My purpose for familiarizing myself with so many gyms in New York was multifold. One was to see what the business there is like, understanding how trainers make a living at those gyms. I have to say, as I see more business professionals in the Twin Cities enjoying boxing as a form of exercise and self-defense, the popularity of White-Collar Boxing (or as I more loosely refer to it, Recreational Boxing), has really blown up in New York. Bruce Silverglade, Gleason’s owner, told me more Boxing Fitness gyms are opening daily, and as far as he’s concerned, “The more the merrier,” because those who really love the sport will eventually end up at his gym. Obviously, the chance for competitive boxers with a lot of experience to make money and possibly a living by teaching recreational boxers is very high in New York. The second purpose for my visit was to apply some of the approach I saw in New York to my own endeavor here. Indeed, I returned with a new enthusiasm to continue training recreational boxers in St. Paul alongside the competitive fighters with whom I work at Element Gym. I ask readers who are interested to contact and definitely steer anyone with interest my way. Finally, my visit to New York afforded me a chance to reconnect with trainers and other friends I’ve met in past trips, along with making new friends.

The biggest delight of my visit was reconnecting at Gleason’s with James ‘Country’ Thornwell, the longtime professional boxing trainer who was brought into the sport by former heavyweight champion of the world, ‘Terrible’ Tim Witherspoon. One story he told me years ago was how Witherspoon told him that while a sparring partner with Muhammad Ali, he would always be given an assignment by Ali on days Ali was scheduled to spar with Larry Holmes. Witherspoon was charged with the task of persuading Holmes to join him and other boxers in a game of basketball so he would be tired when sparring with Ali. In my 2015 article featuring Thornwell and Gleason’s trainer Delan ‘Blimp’ Parsley as trainers in the White Collar Brawlers cable TV show, Thornwell gave me one of the best pieces of advice on becoming a good trainer. Listen as much as you can, he explained. “It could be the dumbest person you know,” he said; “but there will be one thing he’ll say” from which you can learn. It was a lesson in humility and I’m grateful to know Country. He is a good man and I always know that I have a New York friend in him.

With David Song at Gleason’s Gym, Brooklyn, NY.

Besides Country, of course I was happy to say hi to his TV rival, ‘Blimp’ Parsley, as well as Hector Roca, Don Saxby and the other world class trainers at Gleason’s. I also ran into David Song, who in 2015 I met at Teddy Atlas’ Cops and Kids Gym in Brooklyn. He is now training fighters at Gleason’s as well as other gyms.

With trainer Ricky Ray Taylor, author of ‘Punches and Prayers,’ and famed cut man Nelson Cuevas at Mendez Gym, Manhattan.

The aforementioned Woodside Boxing Academy is a good gym in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens, which still has a lot of its original Irish immigrant flavor along with the wide array of New York diversity it has picked up over the last 30 years. In Manhattan I also connected with Ricky Ray Taylor, who’s memoir, Punches and Prayers I featured in October. Taylor works exclusively with White Collar Boxers at Mendez Gym, but there are still professional fighters who frequent that gym, which is why I missed the great trainer, Freddy Roach, by one day, much to my chagrin. I also stopped into the fitness boxing gyms in Manhattan, including one in Soho, Gotham City Gym, which was cramming a constant stream of recreational boxers for one-on-one sessions every day. The desire to be there working in the business was strong, but returning here reignited my resolve to increase that activity at Element Gym and I hope to see many more men and women joining me for a Fighting Chance while Boxing for Life in St. Paul.

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