From city to country: finding a boxing gym.

justin17If you’re a regular visitor to BOXING 4 FREE, you know I have been writing about my time in amateur boxing.  I started by  writing about how I got started in the sport then about my first sparring experience.  Now I like to discuss the difficulty I had in finding a gym in North East Pennsylvania back in the late 1990s.

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Training at home in Queens, NY

The year was 1997.  Summer had just begun and I finished my second year at Queens College.  Truthfully, I pretty much flunked out.  I was quite distracted.  I was still training with Ray Longo who relocated his gym to another part of Long Island and became the International Martial Arts Academy.  He agreed to train me for the Golden Gloves.  A couple months later, my parents sold their home and moved to North East Pennsylvania.  I didn’t have a place of my own, so I moved with them.  Amateur boxing was going to have to wait.

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Grandmother’s land in Shohola, PA

I was used to the country: every summer while growing up, I visited my grandmother who lived in another rural area of Pennsylvania.  When the summer was over I would come back to Queens, New York where I had access to anything I want or needed.  Nothing was further than a city bus or subway ride away.  Now I was stuck here.  The first thing I did was research the area for boxing gyms.  There was nothing.  Ironically, the town I was living in had a deep history of boxing, but that seemed to have ended somewhere in the 1970s.  Perhaps earlier.

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Home gym in parent’s basement

I would constantly get on my computer, crank the dial-up modem and connect to the internet at a whopping 56K hoping to find some information about boxing gyms nearby.  No luck there either.  While I was sleuthing to find a gym, I would routinely record fights.  Then watch them over and over and over and over.  I had some boxing equipment set up in my parent’s basement along with a television and VCR.  I would train along to the fights, many times stopping to see what I could pick up from the fighters.  See if I could pull  out a technique of theirs and put it into my style.  I learned more from those fights than I ever did in the gym.  No offense to Ray who was very knowledgeable.  Remember, he taught many styles, so he couldn’t show me all there was to learn about one.

Along with training and watching fights, I spent much time daydreaming about fighting.  I couldn’t stand it any longer so I made the decision to move into my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn so I can get close to a boxing gym.

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Mike and Justin around 1999/2000

After moving in, my friend, Mike and I went down to Gleason’s Gym to check it out.  I walked up the stairs to that gym and fell in love with the place immediately. It had everything I wanted: atmosphere, equipment, space and several boxing rings.  I went to their office and asked about training.  They told me if I was interested in competing I need to speak to one of their trainers.  They brought a guy in, who’s name I can not remember.  He spoke to me like he was trying to sell me a used car.  Honestly, his approach rubbed me the wrong way, but I took his card and left.  It wouldn’t matter: things at the apartment didn’t go well.  I had to move back to Pennsylvania.  During this time, I made some new friends, one of them, JoAnn, would eventually play a big role in the future.  More on that later.

I still could not locate a boxing trainer or gym in or around the town I lived.  In 2000, my friends in Brooklyn invited me back to the apartment.  I was back in the city, but the job situation was bad.  At some point in my failed job hunt, my uncle from Florida said I can move in with him.  I would also be employed in his construction company.  I did not hesitate: I boarded a Jet Blue plane and landed in Fort Lauderdale where my uncle Mark was waiting.  He drove me to his place in Miami.  The story of where exactly I lived, worked, and spent my time doing there is both complicated, frustrating, juicy and unimportant.

A few days after settling in, I found the boxing gym Muhammad Ali trained at.  Nice place.  Seemed small.  After learning about the rates, I knew I had to start saving.  I wasn’t making much money in Miami and living there was expensive.  Once again, things didn’t work out and I found myself on a plane heading back to North East Pennsylvania.  I was reunited with my friend JoAnn, who would eventually become my girlfriend.  She knew all about my desire to fight and unbeknownst to me, was just as determined to see me get in the ring as I was. Shortly after we started dating, JoAnn called me with me some news.  It was obvious from the sound of her voice that she was excited.  She called to tell me that she found a boxing trainer in Wilkes-Barre, a town about an hour away.  I wanted to be just as excited, but I was skeptical.

I called the name JoAnn gave me: Larry Angeles.  He told me everything I needed to know.  I came down to the gym and met him.  He was a middle-aged guy at the time, with glasses and full of knowledge.  He also trained inmates.  He used to tell me that the best fighters in the world are sitting in prison.  Makes sense.

After getting with him at the gym he worked, I knew things were going to happen.  A few sessions together, I could tell he was impressed.  He never said it, but I could see he was puzzled by how well I moved and by how sound by technique was.  Again, for someone who had never been in a boxing match, I sure looked like I knew I was doing.  Eventually he would have me spar another one of his fighters: Matt if I recall correctly.  Matt had a few fights under his belt.  On the day I sparred him, Larry could not be there.  That was a shame too as I wanted him to watch.  After a few rounds, it was over.  Matt told me that I am very difficult to land a punch on.  My apologies if I sound conceited, but my footwork and head movement was… spectacular at that time.

I was working 6 PM to 6 AM at a factory that was basically the half-way point between my house and the gym.  I didn’t have a vehicle of my own, so my room mate, Amy, would drive me after work, to work with Larry Angeles at 7 AM.  Amy slept in the car while I did this.  This was routine.  Both my girlfriend JoAnn and friend Amy believed in me so much that they would make sure everything was done to make sure I got a chance to box.  That meant a lot to me.

Things were going very well.  Next thing to do would be to have my first amateur fight.

About the Author

Justin M. Salvato
Justin M. Salvato is the creator & owner of BOXING 4 FREE. He's a former amateur boxer, former USA Boxing coach, and former boxing fitness instructor. These days he enjoys vintage computing, retro video games, and talking tech. He also writes a blog about the Coleco ADAM computer and Life with Microsoft.

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