by Amy McGarry, photo by Val Mohney
Every successful boxer has a good corner. In the boxing ring, this is the fighter’s trainer. But everyone needs a good “corner” in life–someone who will encourage us, give us guidance. Someone who will help us grow.
For the disadvantaged youth of Spokane, former professional boxer and current trainer Rick Welliver fills both these roles. He does this at his gym, Spokane Boxing, in downtown Spokane.
“Boxing is not just a sport,” explains Rick. “It’s not just fitness. For many, boxing is a pathway to hope.” This is especially true for at-risk youth, many who are struggling with substance abuse and addictions. For this population, life is literally a fight, making boxing the perfect metaphor for their challenges. Rick opens not only his gym, but his heart to these young people.
Rick is able to directly connect with such youth through Spokane Boxing’s partnership with the Spokane Police Department’s Activities League. Boxing skills and fitness are great benefits, but the real gains are less tangible, like discipline and character.
According to their website, the Police Activities League (PAL) boxing program was formed to “fill the void in after school activities available to youth outside of traditional sports and school clubs.” But it also “breaks down walls and barriers between kids and cops…(and helps change) the preconceived mindset kids have about police.” It lets the kids know that the police are “in their corner.”
The gym is a safe environment for kids to learn what they are made of.
“We are failing our youth,” says Rick. “We’re leaving them behind. These kids are on the downside of advantage. Their parents can’t afford traditional sports programs.” He adds, “Boxing is a sport that changes lives. It not only builds character, it reveals it. You learn pretty quickly that if you can do this, you can do anything in the world.”
Rick believes that an inner city boxing program is critical to creating a vibrant community. He also stresses the value of mentorship.
“Young people need role models, someone to look up to,” he explains.
The PAL program works from this premise as well– that young people need meaningful relationships with caring adults.
Many disadvantaged youth coming from impoverished neighborhoods can’t get these meaningful relationships from home, but they can at Spokane Boxing.
Since many of these kids don’t have money for gym fees, Rick offers an incentive for the ones in 12-step recovery programs. He accepts sobriety coins in exchange for gym time.
“I have a kid here today who brought in his six-month coin of recovery. He got it yesterday.”
Hearing that was heartwarming. But when Rick switched our phone call to FaceTime and focused his camera on a box overflowing with coins and key chains representing countless months of recovery, I witnessed the enormity of this benefaction. It was a symbol of all the hours these kids were developing discipline and building character in the gym. More importantly, it’s a symbol of the fight these kids face every day against their addiction.
Rick Welliver knows first-hand the transformative effects of boxing. While he first got into boxing as a way to “be like his dad,” what he found was “an identity, a feeling of connection, a reason to wake up, hope.” Boxing helped fill a void in Rick’s life that he intends to help fill in the lives of Spokane kids.
While Rick went on to fight professionally, his big dream was always to have his own gym. With some training experience under his belt, Rick’s dream came true when he started Spokane Boxing in 2002. Since then, he’s trained hundreds of men, women, and kids to get in shape or become competitive fighters. To date, Rick has worked with over 200 at-risk youth in the Spokane community.
Community is important to Rick.
“We’ve forgotten how to include people. We’ve forgotten how to connect. We’ve forgotten how to give back.”
And of course, the community includes all walks of life, and Rick notes that all these walks of life are represented at his gym. At any given time in the gym he sees a doctor, a Hell’s Angel, a 70-something-year-old man, a middle-aged mom. Some want fitness. Some want to learn to box. Some are fighting their way through life. But they all reap the benefits of boxing.
“Boxing is a special magic. It brings strength to the weak, confidence to the shy. It makes you feel like you can do anything in the world.”
When asked what’s next, Rick says, “I’m pretty much living it. This is my end-game, to provide a place of hope for people, where they can feel special.” At the same time, this end-game includes traveling with kids to compete in boxing. He remembers how much he loved those trips– a chance to get away, to feel good about ourselves.”
Those trips in Rick’s youth took him to Silver Valley in Idaho, a region he soon grew to love. This love led him to bring boxing back to the Silver Valley “in a big way.” He works with kids in the Wallace and Kellogg area as well as Spokane.
Rick’s contributions to the Spokane community don’t go unrecognized. Rick’s work was highlighted in Spokane’s KXLY “Everyday Heroes,” which profiles people who go “above and beyond” to make a difference in the community. He was also featured in PBS’s “Northwest Profiles.”
To see these videos and learn more about Rick and Spokane Boxing, visit www.spokaneboxing.com. Better yet, put on a pair of gloves and walk in the gym door. Rick promises me you’re more than welcome.
In the meantime, let’s all keep fighting the good fight.