Carlos Duncan, the President of the Galesburg Youth Athletic Club (GYAC), teaches boxers the formula behind getting a solid hit in the ring. Duncan, who has owned his boxing gym for 25 years, hopes to share that knowledge with a larger number of students from Knox College. The support Knox students bring to his boxing ring has left an emotional impression on Duncan.
“When I first walked [into the boxing gym] … I felt a little out of place, but then I talked to Carlos. He’s so friendly. He’s really great,” said Treasurer of Knox Boxing Club and senior Marguerite Brick. “I think the relationship between Knox and the boxing gym has been there for a really long time. They enjoy having Knox students there.”
Brick estimates that she is one of 20 Knox students who attend GYAC. The program is hosted on the top floor of the Weinberg Arcade at 64 S. Prairie St., Suite 4.
Duncan reflected on the fact that many of the Knox students who attend GYAC are of different cultural origins. Duncan believes that international relations has become a series of fighting, which saddens him.
“It almost made me cry: a couple of years ago, I looked at the Knox College kids … [they’re] from all over. They were all having fun. They were all part of something. [They] go back home and now we’re fighting,” Duncan said.
Duncan is no stranger to different cultures — he has visited over 48 countries. He was also a boxing coach during the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta. Three years prior, Duncan had retired from the Air Force. He recalled teaching boxing during the Vietnam War.
“When I was in Vietnam, I worked with kids. I don’t know if they were the enemies’ kids or whatever, but it didn’t matter,” said Duncan. “I was working with them, I was showing them how to box, and pretty much wherever I’ve been I’ve [done] similar things Ñ getting a bunch of kids in the neighborhood and we’d go up there and do our little thing.”
Benefits of Boxing Club:
Junior and President of the Boxing Club Christian Nacaspaca himself is of Mexican descent.
My parents are both Mexican, [and] there’s kind of like a fighting culture in that, like I was always a fan of boxing and other combat sports. I always fought as a kid, too. It’s just in my blood, I guess,” Nacaspaca said.
Though the Boxing Club has not gotten funding approval from senate yet and is not officially recognized as a club, Nacaspaca and his fellow executive members have tried their best to organize their club members so it can become official.
“The kids that meet [have] increased. I understand the workload at Knox College,” Duncan said. “But they can come here, females and males, and know that [the gym is] only two or three blocks away from the campus and they can have fun.”
Brick confirmed that a few women attend the GYAC program, which surprised her as she used to box at home in Chicago, where she only saw men over 30 at the gym she went to. However, she estimates the crowd at GYAC gym is still more than 50 percent male.
“Not a lot of women do boxing, I want more women to be in this sport. I want more women boxers, especially since there is this one girl in the boxing gym and she is an eighth-grade girl,” Brick said. She boxes competitively and she is just so good.”
Duncan believes one of the benefits of having Knox students and Galesburg youth interact is by giving kids a positive impression of what college students look like. GYAC also pairs Knox students with struggling Galesburg students in a tutoring program.
“It’d just so happen the kids from Knox would come in, work with the kids. After they did the half hour, 45 minutes of tutoring, they’d go back out in the gym,” Duncan said.
It’s not all about the sport:
For Duncan, GYAC is not just an athletic program — it’s a support system. One of his goals while starting the gym was to provide an alternative to drugs, violence and gangs for kids. He also mentors students who get sent to GYAC from teen court. He believes it’s important for him to be a positive role model for these kids, and show them that he cares.
“One of the coaches, Woody, he was a bad kid from Chicago when he came down here. Thirteen years old, you look at him wrong and he’s ready to go to war with you. He’s told many people ‘the program was there, and Mr. Duncan didn’t give up on me.’ That’s the thing that’s so important nowadays, that we don’t just kick them to the wayside,” Duncan said.
The former boxing champ, aged 76, also believes boxing has saved him. He stated that he would no longer be alive without the sport. For Duncan, his boxing-inspired mental attitude has kept many of his health troubles including diabetes and cancer at bay.
“I have multiple myeloma, which is a blood bone and kidney cancer … they gave me 3-5 years [to live] in 2008. The treatment has gotten better in that period of time. I take chemo once a month, that’s gotten better, and my attitude and what I’m doing — positive things … working with the kids, working with [elders with Parkinson’s]. Without them I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you,” Duncan said. “Somewhere along the line, you have to put that pity party to the side.”
On a smaller scale, freshman and Vice President of Knox Boxing Club Max Caplan started attending Duncan’s program months ago and feels like the program has helped him stay in shape.
“A couple months ago I had no idea what I was doing and was not super physically fit. I’m still not super physically fit, but it’s a process Ñ and you don’t have to be the ultimate athlete to go and have [the boxing gym] as a place to work out,” Caplan said.
Brick reported that she joined the boxing gym to stay in shape as well. The protocol of each meeting involves primarily cardio and anaerobic exercises for the first half hour. These exercises aim to increase the endurance of fighters. The remainder of the time is spent sparring, or fighting which aims not to injure. However, members must pay a $65 fee to GYAC in order to participate in the sparring program.
Brick stated that the sparring portion of boxing is exciting. However, during her first time sparring, Brick puked afterwards. She also got hit in the nose.
“During [training], you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this? This is the worst, I’m gonna puke, I can’t do this,’” said Brick “After, I’d be like,’Wow! I feel really good about myself. I feel myself getting stronger.”
The formula of boxing:
Like Brick, Duncan also had a rough start to his boxing career. His boxing roots go back as far as his childhood — GYAC has been in his family for 72 years under various different names. His first experience in the ring came when his father told him to “get the gloves on” during a visit to the boxing gym.
Duncan reported that he had the snot beaten out of him in his first sparring match. This caused him to take an immediate dislike to the sport, and told his brother he wouldn’t go back to the boxing gym.
“The next night we were going to the gym, dad says, ‘I understand you don’t particularly care for [this] … we need to come up with a formula,’” Duncan said. “I was in the first, second grade and he was talking to me about formula. ‘We’re gonna have to figure out some way. You don’t want to do this, so there’s a formula, a way of getting through this.’”
Practicing boxers perceive the sport as far more intricate and based on mentality than the surface physicalities of boxing gloves and throwing punches. After months of exposure to the sport, Caplan defines boxing in his own way.
“Boxing is the art of punching people and learning how that works and putting yourself in the most effective position,” Caplan said.
Coach Duncan defines the sport in a different way, stating that finding a scientific formula has helped him through his amateur and professional careers.
“Boxing is a science. You know, you just don’t get out there and throw punches Ñ the other kid had some ideas about that,” Duncan said laughing.
Duncan cites self-esteem, goal-setting, discipline, respect for others and oneself and responsibility for one’s own actions as components of the mental formula that comprises the science of boxing. However, for Duncan, the most important part of his program is that kids have fun being part of it.
“We work out some of that hostility Ñ or anxiety or whatever Ñ working on the bags. We have fun,” Duncan said.
The Boxing Club meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 7 p.m.