Sunday, October 23, 2011

Punching Away Despair - Gordon Marino and Dicky Eklund Spar with Leo Men

Gordon Marino instructing at St. Olaf's.
Dicky Ecklund and Gordon Marino worked the boxing paddles for two Leo Boxers on Friday

I have the greatest job on this our planet. I take credit for other people's generosity, as Director Development for Leo High School; manage to teach with out the burden of class sizes, lesson plans, or holding myself accountable for student progress, mingle with tough, smart, willful, earnest and happy souled young men, write proposals and draft strategies for improving the school's financial health and institutional growth and get paid every two weeks.

Those are only the meat and spuds of the job. Here's the gravy - I work with a journalism legend and Leo Alumnus Dan McGrath, President of Leo High School. Dan McGrath is a prose practitioner of the purest ore; longtime sports writer in the tradition of Ring Lardner, Arch Ward and Dave Condon; an editor of unparalleled discernment and Catholic gentleman to the backbone.

Likewise, Leo Alumnus Mike Joyce, an attorney, former pro boxer, and Leo Board Member is my friend. Mike Joyce and Dan McGrath are magnets. They attract people to their hearts, their minds and their hands. Like most Leo Alumni, these gentlemen are so because they treat every human being as the most important person on the planet. Dan McGrath knows every student in the school and has a very powerful grip on each young man's progress. Dan McGrath leads from the front, because he gets behind each of the young men in his charge.

Mike Joyce, likewise, is more than hands on with his boxers. Mike Joyce once said, "these kids need people who really paying attention to them, even if that means chewing their asses." Mike knows all about that. He related a story to me and two visitors to Leo on Friday.

Mike told us, "One of my first amateur bouts nearly ended my love of boxing. I was lured into sparring with a guy who had an upcoming fight, by these two jerk managers. I could barely, hold my hands up in the ring, but thought because I was a street fighter that I was a boxer. I knew nothing. I was torn to pieces. I was bleeding and bruised and had to take the bus from Fuller Park back home. One of the Murphy Brothers watched what happened to me, talked to me and took me under their care. I was not just someone to be used by some louse who was making his boy look good - a punching bag. That is what I try to do with our kids. From the start, all they learn is the basics - how to stand, how to guard themselves, how to jab, how to hook . . .months before they put on headgear. Most of all they get in top shape and know that someone has their back."

The two visitors were Dicky Ecklund* and Gordon Marino**. Dicky Ecklund is the brother of Irish Mickey Ward and was played by Christian Bale in the recent Oscar winning film The Fighter. Gordon Marino is the former Yale and Virginia Military Institute (VMI) boxing coach, author of “Kierkegaard in the Present Age,” “Ethics: The Essential Writings,” co editor of “The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard,” writer for New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and is director of the Hong/Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

On Friday, Leo High School was ginning up spirit with Notre Dame great and Leo Alumnus Jay Standring in the the iconic third floor gym in anticipation to that night's football game with our brothers the Crusaders of Brother Rice.

Mike, Dan and I joined boxer-trainer Dicky Ecklund and Gordon Marino on the second floor's boxing gym, while Jay Standring schooled the Lions on Leo Traditions. Also joining us were Leo students Marlon Claybrooks and Eddie Cooper.

Both Ecklund and Marino put on the Paddles and hand sparred with our guys and both boxers impressed the visiting dignitaries. Eddie Cooper displayed the best poise, balance and preparation. Though with the mournful sloth of his sport slowing him, Football player Marlon has what Dicky Ecklund called " Heavy Hands." The kid hits very hard.

Our kids were given a tutorial that would cost another boxing student a lung. Dicky Ecklund admonished the 'heavy-handed' Marlon about keeping his eyes on his opponent's gloves and hips and not turning his head in a follow-through.

After the lessons, we went to the gym with Leo student body. Our three visitors needed a ride to the Sheraton on Illinois and I offered to drive. When we were leaving the gym we were chased by Darius Gaddy, who shouted to Dicky Ecklund -"Hey, was that you who jumped out of all those windows in the movie?" Ecklund affirmed.

I had read Gordon Marino in the past - he is a warrior poet philosopher. While Dicky Ecklund has the contemporary street cred, Professor Marino pulls what we do at Leo into philosophy - the discipline of leading a good life.

Ecklund and Marino were in town to celebrate Boxing legend Angelo Dundee's nine decades at the Italian American Hall of Fame on Taylor Street that night, while Leo Lions fought for inches, feet and yards at Brother Rice ( Br. Rice 45; Leo 40). I had the privilege of spending a few hours with these fine teachers.

It was on the Dan Ryan that Mike Joyce told the story of how a boxing manager had abused him, how another manager had sensed his pain and picked up his desire to box, and his own doctrine for the ring.

Gordon Marino offered some sensitive insights on Despair and the inner city kids that we serve. I could not capture his articulate words with any accuracy nor duplicate them with any real clarity. Here is what Gordon Marino wrote in the New York Times about the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and modern life's muddled sense of what it truly is -

The spirit is one thing, the psyche another: The blues one thing, despair another.

How might Kierkegaard have parsed the distinction for the Doubting Thomas who will only believe what he can glean on an M.R.I.? Perhaps he would describe it this way.

Each of us is subject to the weather of our own moods. Clearly, Kierkegaard thought that the darkling sky of his inner life was very much due to his father’s morbidity. But the issue of spiritual health looms up with regard to the way that we relate to our emotional lives. Again, for Kierkegaard, despair is not a feeling, but an attitude, a posture towards ourselves. The man who did not become Caesar, the applicant refused by medical school, all experience profound disappointment. But the spiritual travails only begin when that chagrin consumes the awareness that we are something more than our emotions and projects. Does the depressive identify himself completely with his melancholy? Has the never ending blizzard of inexplicable sad thoughts caused him to give up on himself, and to see his suffering as a kind of fever without significance?

If so, Kierkegaard would bid him to consider a spiritual consultation on his despair, to go along with his trip to the mental health clinic.

Despair, it seems to me, comes from a belief that one is all alone. For far too many people, that just might be the case.

Our kids might not become the next Ali, Fraser, or Sugar Ray, but they will know their stance, how to guard and how to hit back. A defeat is not necessarily a failure. A win is not necessarily a triumph. Balance, Poise and Preparation is everything. More importantly, our kids will know many people are in their corner,

This was only a few hours of my life on Friday, at the greatest job on the planet.

Dicky Eklund is the man portrayed by actor Christian Bale in the upcoming movie “ The Fighter “. He is a former 3 time golden Gloves champion with over 190 victories as an amateur. He is best known as a professional boxer for having faced Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout televised on HBO in 1978.

Dicky’s talent as a trainer is also legendary, having trained his brother, Irish Micky Ward, for dozens of dramatic ring victories, including two that were voted fight of the year by Ring Magazine. One of those victories, over the great Arturo Gatti, is considered by most boxing insiders to be the “ Fight of the Century “

As a trainer, Dicky is known for his tremendous insight into the boxing game, his ability to motivate fighters and his challenging workout regimens. These are traits that helped his brother Micky push through grueling opponents while on the road to winning a world championship title.

Dicky is now a full time trainer, working with competitive boxers and MMA fighters. Dicky also has training options for people who are simply looking to get in shape, learn boxing basics or even a one time workout challenge.

A former boxer, Gordon Marino
was head boxing coach
at Virginia Military Institute
and now runs a boxing program
in Northfield, Minn.,
where he teaches philosophy
at St. Olaf College.
He also writes about boxing
for the Wall Street Journal.

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