Boxing for Change

Monday, May 11, 2015, by Greg Peerenboom, Standard-Freeholder

Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo didn’t throw any punches Saturday evening, but his solutions for overcoming personal hurdles struck the hearts of many who attended a boxing showcase fundraiser for the Children’s Treatment Centre.

“Show us a few moves!” one guest shouted up at Chuvalo after he had gingerly ducked under the ropes to stand in the centre of the boxing ring that had been erected inside the spacious Bombardier Room at the Nav Centre.

Chuvalo didn’t and doesn’t have to (his reputation as Canada’s greatest heavyweight has long been secured). Instead he sat down on one of two chairs placed inside the ring, content for a long Q&A with Cornwall’s Champs East Side boxing owner Jorge Luis – “my new friend” – who organized the Boxing for Change event.

Although Chuvalo “never touched the canvas” in 93 pro fights, he was virtually bed-ridden in the mid-1990s after experiencing the loss of three family members: two sons to suicide and drug addiction, which led to his first wife taking her own life.

But he revived and became strong enough to deal with a loss of yet another son from an overdose a couple of years later, and finally the premature death of his granddaughter from cancer. “It was a horrible thing to happen, to lose a beautiful granddaughter.”

But now his post-retirement path was laid out in front of him.

“It’s just a wonder to see,” said Sean Adams, a co-organizer for the event, describing Chuvalo’s immediate request to visit the city’s CTC, Champs East Side and a local drug addiction centre on Friday, shortly after arriving in Cornwall. Adams remarked about Chuvalo’s constant willingness to give everyone time, including helping a young boxer to untie a stubborn double-knot.

Chuvalo told the guests that his personal tragedies motivate him to give back to society. “You never, ever get over it – I think about (my sons) every hour of the day,” he said. “Life is tough, life is hard, life is cruel.” “Because of all that I lost, would I be able to talk to people today all over Canada?”

The former long-time Canadian champion said the perils of drug and alcohol use can catch parents off-guard.

“I wasn’t aware of what was happening to my own family,” he said, acknowledging that his boxing career kept him “on the road a lot.” He urged everyone in attendance to take personal “stock of what they do with their lives” to become better role models for their children and others.

Chuvalo said to beware of any use of narcotic substances, as smoking can lead to harmful drinking and drug use.

A Roman Catholic, he also emphasized the importance of faith, revealing that he has leaned heavily on the Virgin Mary to help get through the darker times.

He wishes he can live his life over again, in order to at least have been a more devoted parent during his children’s formative years.

While tragedy has marked his life, Chuvalo also spoke about the positives, including the success of his surviving son, a Russian language teacher.

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