More than a month has passed, and the buzz still remains in the blood of some of the happy campers who attended the 15th annual Gleason’s Fantasy Boxing camp.
Gary Klein made the trek, from Philly to upstate NY, and the memories of the invigorating session are fresh in his mind, and make him bubble with enthusiasm.
“My wife and I arrived at the camp early Thursday afternoon,” Klein reported. “We were greeted by Bruce Silverglade and his Gleason’s crew at the registration table, where we were handed an attractive gym bag filled with boxing goodies and clothing, including a nice Gleason’s sweatshirt. We were assigned a room in one of the wings of the expansive resort, which was quite spacious and comfortable. I changed and hurried to the large gym area reserved exclusively for the camp participants, which included two boxing rings, heavy bags, speed bags, and empty tennis courts for group exercise activities. There was a list on the wall, and I was assigned to a group of five men, and our first destination was one of the two boxing rings. We began stretching and then shadow boxing together in one of the rings, while Iran Barkley, known most famously for his knockout of Thomas Hearns in 1988 for the WBC middleweight title…
..walked amongst us and corrected form. He was low key but focused. We then moved over to heavy bags and some other equipment as another group moved to the ring. My favorite equipment was the rubber human heads that swiveled as you smacked them. Iran patiently helped me twist more as I threw hooks. We then had some free time to spar or participate in larger group exercises, and Sonya Lamonakis aka The Scholar taught some of us a few things in the ring. As I sparred with her, she would tell me when my hands weren’t in the proper defensive position as she moved, faked and threw a barrage of punches, careful not to hit too hard.”
Klein, age 63, enjoyed this, his second camp session.
“Gleason’s had about 12 tables seating about 10 apiece in the capacious dining room which also hosted other groups. The buffet line was quick – about five hot dishes, and a salad and dessert table at dinner, and a similar set-up for breakfast and lunch, although we had one special barbeque lunch outside. The food was good, although not gourmet. My wife and I rotated tables and felt comfortable at each one. Some ate quickly and would leave to rest and get ready for the next activity, while others hung around and had a good time chatting. We enjoyed the good feeling of acceptance at each table. One of our longest chats was with the famous trainer, Hector Roca, who conversed in Spanish with many members of the dining room staff and seemed to know everyone by name. Towards the end of the camp we also enjoyed sharing a table with Yuri Foreman, his wife and three children. Yuri asked me how my boxing was going, and I shrugged and said I didn’t know whether it will improve at my age. He looked straight in my eyes and softly said, “it will.”
In addition to meals, there were special food treats each evening – the first night we made s’mores around a campfire, on the second, we ate ice cream with toppings as we watched boxing matches. The third night consisted of a buffet of goodies, including a large birthday cake inscribed with the names of everyone who had had a birthday within the month, a category that included me. We blew out the candles, and talked about our ages.
“The second day of training was the longest, especially for those who opted to take an early run in the morning (optional for masters). After breakfast, our group had a morning training with a younger Gleason’s trainer, who was very affable and supportive in guiding good technique, and an afternoon training with Coach Ray Cuadrado, who was patient in having us repeat basic slips and bobs. We also did some fun and challenging core exercises along with the youth, led by Jackie Atkins, who owns a gym in New Jersey and also runs the “Give A Kid A Dream” program. The day was long, but when you see everyone else working out, it pushes you to go further than you probably thought you could. Also, we did have time to chat with one another a bit and take short breaks, or bypass all or part of a group activity and work out on our own.
“The third day was the capstone, as we prepared for the evening Saturday sparring matches. We had morning sessions and an afternoon of freedom to do what we chose, options including working out or something more relaxing like a sauna, spa or sleep. Our group’s morning session was with Alicia Ashley, a world champ who looks much younger than her age.” (50, for the record…)
“She used a foam gadget to mimic offensive moves as we slipped, bobbed and weaved to work on quick defensive actions and counters. That afternoon, the trainers paired boxers for the matches, and if someone didn’t have an ideal match, usually a trainer would fill in, and box at a comparable level. There were three of us who were roughly equivalent in age and ability, and two of us already had had three fights during the year at Gleason’s amateur nights. All three of us bonded well, and since this wasn’t an actual sanctioned fight, we wanted to get a good gauge of how pumped up we should get, so as to be at an even keel. To avoid anyone being the odd man out in the pairing, I recommended to Bruce Silverglade at lunch that perhaps we could rotate rounds among the three of us, which had the added positive of it being more of a sparring and less of a fight-fight environment. The matchmaking committee liked that suggestion, and we rotated one minute rounds, getting four in apiece, just right.
“Even though the fourth day was check-out, one could stay through lunch. Mid-morning, we all met outside on a hill, with a beautiful natural background and had our large group and small group pictures taken. The wonderful professional photographer, Thierry, posted all of the pictures he took throughout the camp, including these final joyful images, on his website for a free download. He had them clearly organized by day, and viewing the many pictures we were in was an enjoyable way to remember the camp.”
And what are Klein’s main takeaways?
“What stood out for me at this camp, was the totality of the experience. There is nothing like the thrill of competing in a sport with participants of roughly equal ability, getting in good shape and staying healthy as we give it our best and respect one another. This camp was one peg to push us to become the best we can be, and feel connected to people who share our passions. Even though our abilities are miles away from the pros, I could tell that the pros genuinely enjoyed helping and seeing us raw amateurs improve. And where else could you have a sociable evening, eating ice cream while watching film footage of Iran Barkley knocking out Thomas Hearns for the world middleweight title, and then viewing Yuri Foreman win the super welterweight title..
..while having Iran and Yuri eating ice cream right next to you!
“There were also the precious small moments, such as feeling closely connected to boxers who are your competition. With our age and other limitations, we will never be great, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to be good, and I hope we each succeed and have our overall lives enriched from our disciplined commitment to boxing. I used to run marathons, and get the so-called runner’s high, but there’s nothing like the rush I get when I’m finally able to slip a punch at just the right moment and throw a counter with proper form, or to block or connect with a hook, or just simply connect with a jab based on good timing. I have also come to more deeply respect what every serious boxer, at amateur or professional level, goes through. It’s nice to be on the periphery of that special group, as a master’s boxer. Sure, I could work out with equipment in the gym, punch a heavy bag or work out with a trainer using mitts, which is great for fitness, but the thrill of being in the ring, and trying to put it together, even if with only partial success, trumps all.
“The camp did well by the young folk who were sponsored to attend. It was good to see how hard they worked and also managed to have fun while being very respectful towards the counselors. While their skill levels varied from novice to very good boxers, they all seemed to enjoy themselves. While the adult boxers’ interactions with the kids were not many, I did however enjoy one interaction with a 16 year old who briefly joined our boxing group. Possibly a little intimidated by being in an adult group, he was polite but distant. As teens tend to generally ignore adults when interacting amongst themselves, I was later quite honored to realize that he did remember me, as he invited my wife and myself to join his group on a hike when we passed them in our stroll around the grounds.”
My thanks to Mr Klein for taking so much time to convey the routine and highlights. I think it gives the best sense we could hope to get about what it’s like to attend.