The Kingsway Boxing Club, hidden on an industrial side street at 22 Jutland Rd., is home to an atypical clientele these days: the corporate business community.
Fitted with headgear, boxing gloves and boots, up to 10 “white collar” leaders – with little to no prior fighting experience – are training at the gym in preparation for Fight to End Cancer (FTEC) Saturday, May 31. At the annual event they will each be pitted against each other in a boxing match sanctioned by Boxing Ontario to raise funds for high-priority cancer research at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
“I wanted to partner up with a foundation that directly impacts our community,” said Kingsway Boxing’s Jennifer Huggins, an Etobicoke native and the founder and executive director of FTEC.
“We’re basically giving back to the hospital, and it’s working towards a cure for the disease.”
It is the third round for the FTEC, which has donated more than $160,000 for Princess Margaret since 2011 thanks to the support of a flurry of sponsors from Bay Street. Huggins’ project was a “segue” from her careers as a senior boxing trainer, referee as well as a magician’s assistant and entrepreneur. She noted there are many parallels with boxing and business.
“Boxing is a very reactionary sport, and what I mean by that is with for every action there is a consequence,” Huggins said.
“Both the corporate and boxing world are full of risks, and the only way you can counter that is to establish confidence, and have better intuition and reflexes.”
Under the direction of Huggins and fellow head coach Virgil Barrow, the members of the 2014 Fight Team undergo a rigorous six-month introduction to the techniques of ‘Olympic-style’ boxing – training that culminates in the fight that consists of a rapid three rounds in six minutes. Because it’s a tough, rigorous regimen and a short training period, Huggins says there is a risk of participants dropping out weeks before the May deadline due to the necessary commitment.
“It’s a huge challenge for ourselves, I’ve never taken on anything this physically and mentally difficult,” said Jane Watson, an Etobicoke resident and vice-president of consulting at career management firm Optimum Talent. Her weekly routine consists of four days of conditioning and sparring, with sessions often lasting three hours.
“But the people in our lives who have been affected by cancer are the ones (who) are fighting. Compared to what they go through, this is nothing.”
Shane Lewis-Stirling, the manager of ice cream restaurant Caffe Demetre on the Kingsway, agreed.
“My ideal Saturday morning isn’t waking up and getting punched in the face, but we’re doing the easy part and the awareness this is spreading is second to none.”
Stirling is the second in his company to put up his dukes at FTEC.
“Hopefully the demand will come in, and we’ll give a good show. Win or lose, I just want to give it my best and not let myself down, watch the other fights, sit down at the end of the night and have a drink with everyone.”
The friendly competition on fight day doesn’t detract from some exciting bouts. Huggins and Barrow argued the 2013 match between Shireen Fabing and Kate Hillier, the first two female charity boxers, was the best they’ve seen at FTEC.
“The best way to describe it is playing chess,” Barrow said.
“I trained both of them. I knew their strengths and weaknesses, and seeing them adapt to their opponent – they knew what it’s all about. It got the crowd pumping and it was very energetic.”
FTEC will be held at the Old Mill Inn, where a full-size boxing ring is placed in the middle of the Brulé Ballroom. The Las Vegas-style black-tie gala includes a gourmet dinner and celebrity entertainment.
“We like it that way. We tell everybody to dress to the nines, come in a limo. And that’s part of the experience. Old Mill has that class, but at the same you have over 50 tables around the ring, with its rugged look. It actually meshes in pretty well,” Barrow said.
Tickets range from $225 for a single seat to $2000 and higher for a 10-seat table. To purchase and get event updates go to www.fighttoendcancer.com/