Former Ridge fighters returning to the club in droves

The fighters finish their jog and file back into the boxing club. Most have wet hair after their rope work and run...

Head coach Rick Funk works with a fighter.

Head coach Rick Funk works with a fighter.

The fighters finish their jog and file back into the boxing club. Most have wet hair after their rope work and run, but it’s not raining outside.

Head coach Rick Funk gets them running on the spot.

“Knees high,” he yells.

Some of the young guys kick it up a notch, knees going like pistons, their faces frozen in grimaces. A couple of the guys who are on the far side of 40 stop, and lean on their knee s.

“WHOOOoooo.” Funk sounds off like the Canucks game announcer after naming the home team’s goal scorer.

“It’s a brutal workout,” smiles Nick Sidhu, on the sidelines. “It’s tough cardio.”

He’s got a sore back tonight, and he’s watching guys he boxed with when he was a teenager in Maple Ridge.

“I fought Manny Sobral,” he says, name dropping the 1988 Olympian.

And the 48-year-old is also watching his son Akash, 13, whose been going to the club for a few weeks, and apparently loving it.

“I see myself when I look at my son.”

Sidhu, Funk and other former fighters are part of a renaissance happening at the club.

They were part of it during the 1980s, when it was churning out champions as one of the top clubs in the country. Funk, for example, was a junior national champion who went on to international competition. These guys know what it takes.

When the late John Skanks got sick, the athletes he had trained as young men started coming back to the gym to help out.

Skanks’ wife Carol is still there, too, helping with the administration.

“It’s really having a resurgence. It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s like we’ve got a shot of adrenalin in the club.

“And it’s fun, but they really make them work hard.”

“Plank.” Funk drowns her out. “Make sure you’re breathing.”

A whole floor routine begins. The fighters have stopped running and bouncing around, but it certainly doesn’t look any easier.

About an hour after it started, the workout is over. The fighters start to work the heavy bags, and get into the ring for sparring. The energy in the place has cranked up another notch.

Billy Drewitt and his twin brother Rob are two former fighters who have come back to help with the club.

Billy quit competitive boxing when his wife told him she was pregnant.

“I want the kids drooling on me, not me drooling on the kids.” He laughs.

Billy is in his ninth week of training, and has dropped 20 pounds. It’s the same workout routine he did as a teenager.

“It hasn’t changed a bit.”

His 15-year-old daughter Morgan is a track star, a distance runner, and he challenged her to try the workout. She enjoys it, too.

“I’m the proud papa, walking in with my daughter.”

He was a Western Canadian Golden Gloves winner, and a B.C. team member. His brother made the national team. They are both Samoan born, and a highlight of their careers was fighting for Fiji in the South Pacific Games. Both brothers won silver medals.

Billy likes passing on what he knows to the young fighters.

“The most important thing is to teach them, is to be a good human being. Next is fitness – if you’re not fit, you can’t fight,” he said. “Just like Pops did for us.

“Believe it or not, this carries all through life.”

Brad Scott has been back six months, but he’s drenched in sweat after the workout.

“It’s supposed to get easier,” he said. “It’s probably age.”

He’s 46, getting back into shape, and quit smoking.

He did about six fights with the club, won five, and won a silver medal at the B.C. Games.

He and Funk boxed together, and now he sees Funk as the guy any fighter would want in his corner.

“He’s got tons of experience, and he’s a really good coach. He knows his stuff.”

They are at the club four days a week from 7-9 p.m. Scott said some of the kids are showing great commitment, and some have potential.

Mike O’Connell is another former Maple Ridge boxer who returned to the club. He’s had coaching stints at the Hastings Boxing Club and in Burnaby, and has been around boxing in the Lower Mainland, and he likes what they’ve got going in Maple Ridge.

“This is great, a really great atmosphere. Everyone’s up. I’ve trained at some clubs where you’d be in the ring and it was like war.”

The Port Moody resident won B.C. Golden Gloves, and was selected for the Golden Boy award as the outstanding boxer of the tournament. He was also selected as the best boxer at the 1979 Winter Games in Kamloops, as he won gold.

O’Connell likes Funk’s details-oriented approach to coaching.

“He’s good. He’s like me – he wants to get down to showing people really how to do it.”

How to move their head, footwork, making people miss, blocking and deflecting punches – there’s a lot to teach.

“It’s a lot more than hitting the other guy,” said O’Connell. “It’s fun, coaching, and it’s interesting to see them improve.

“Boxing is like any sport – it makes people feel good about themselves, keeps them in shape, and keeps them away from negative influences.”

The Maple Ridge Boxing Club meant the world to John Skanks, and it meant a lot to so many fighters over the years. With Skanks passing in January, they have come back to make sure the club is okay.

“Pops has got a funny way of working. He had it all planned out,” said Billy Drewitt. “He knew when he was gone that we’d come back. And we came back in droves.”