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‘Giving is living’

Spartan Boxing founders have big plans for the future
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAl Daniels and Troy Wohosky at Spartan Boxing Club in Medford.

Editor's note: Community Builder is a periodic Q&A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today's conversation is with Troy Wohosky, executive director, and Al Daniels, chair of the board, at Spartan Boxing.

Q: Troy, how did Spartan Boxing get started?

Troy: I wanted to be a world champion boxer, but the cards weren’t given to me that way. I had just been to the Olympic trials. Then my gym shut down. ... So, I created a boxing gym in my driveway and trained on my own. Kids from the neighborhood came and wanted me to teach them. I never set out to be a mentor or coach. It just organically happened.

In 2007 I started helping kids around my neighborhood, and it grew to about 40 students. I'd have half of the class run to the mall and back. The other half would have workouts at the carport and train in the driveway. A student’s dad said, "Hey, we have a building in Medford. You're outgrowing your driveway.” Larry Leonard is the most amazing guy. He helped mentor me about business aspects. Since 2012 we’ve trained at a 5,000-square-foot warehouse. We have over 300 students now. From 2012 to 2021, we’ve had over 1,000 students. I believe in building your community and training the new generation to become leaders. Giving is living to me.

Q: Al, how did you get involved with Spartan Boxing?

Al: My background is wrestling. I was a Junior College All-American. I used to wrestle at SOU. A friend asked me to come to the gym and give him some training. That’s where I met Troy. I went to one of his classes, saw the kids working out, and the chemistry was on. I was attracted to the kids enjoying themselves. That was about four years ago. And now I’m chairman of the board.

Q: What outcome do you hope for in young people?

Troy: I help kids with getting in condition and to channel aggression. I tell the sponsors and foundations that it's not about hitting. It's about building relationships, supporting academics and building confidence. My slogan is: "Making champions inside and outside the ring.”

Q: What do you say to people who object to teaching kids how to fight?

Al: We’re not teaching kids how to fight, we’re teaching kids how to not get hit. We give them tools to avoid a fight. "If it's too bad, I can run away. Or I can protect myself and get away." Taking care of yourself allows you to walk around with confidence and look around for even more.

Troy: It's more than teaching them how to fight. It's teaching them life. It teaches them morals. It builds confidence and helps them to be humble. We teach them to talk their way out of a fight before they engage.

Q: How do you measure success?

Troy: I get this call from school, "Kyle's in the office for fighting, and he really wants to talk to you." Kyle says, "Coach, coach, it wasn't really a fight. This kid tried to hit me, and I moved, and he sprained his hand by hitting the lockers.” I was proud because Kyle could have hurt the kid, and he didn't throw any punches. That's success. I like my teeth; I like my face. The point of boxing is to not get hit. Being happy within yourself and giving back to those less fortunate is how I measure success.

Q: How does Spartan Boxing teach kids how to function in life?

Al: Pressure comes from everywhere, and if you've never seen it before then your brain can't react to it right. When you learn how to deal with pressure mentally, when you are physically out of breath or scared, you can calmly make better decisions. We have pressure drills that can break you. You get so tired you just want to say, "I quit." That can happen doing homework, or when you got a super hard test and it's too difficult to think. When we put these kids through these types of things, it teaches them to grow up, to deal with pressure and keep going.

The other part is the camaraderie. Everybody's not boxing. Some people are just there for a workout or to see their friend work out. We want a place of social peace. You're thinking, "Everybody is happy, everybody is smiling and just laughing."

Q: Tell us about your vision for the future. What could Spartan Boxing be five years from now?

Troy: We've helped over 1,000 kids with 5,000 square feet. How much could we do with 40,000 square feet? In five years, we'll have a bigger, newer facility to really reach at-risk youth, families and young adults. I see a Spartan Sports Academy. We created Spartan Basketball. We have Lady Spartans Football. We have Spartan Basketball for the ladies. We're trying to create mixed martial arts and wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu. I'll have a tutor room. We'll have day care to help families that have kids. I see football turf and an indoor track upstairs. It's $2.5 million to build. It’s a big number, but we have the right strategy, and I got a good board.

Q: What is your personal journey? You grew up in the Philippines?

Troy: I was born in the Philippines and was there until I was like 6 or 7. Then Mount Pinatubo erupted in '91. There was no water, no food. People were looting, but at the same time loving and comforting each other.

My Dad is American, he was stationed at Clark Military Base. We moved to Medford after the volcano erupted. We left a lot of family behind. I loved my family in the Philippines. I stepped off the plane and saw my breath for the first time because it was cold. I'd only been in hot weather. I came here speaking Tagalog. I was bullied because I couldn't speak English, and all that anger came. I was fighting at school and neighbors saw me and were like, "You got fast hands. You should join this club where my son goes." I checked it out and fell in love with boxing. I had my son when I was 14. I had to grow up at a young age and think like an adult and get my own place with my wife. I'm still with her.

Q: What is your background, Al?

Al: I was born and raised in Chicago when it was the murder capital of the world. I lived around gangs and drugs and killing. On the same note though, you got family and friends. You learn to adapt. I wrestled at Hubbard High School in Chicago, where I was recruited by a Hall of Fame coach Rex Branum to Lassen Junior College in Susanville. He told me I had a bunch of athletic talent. I was a Junior College All-American for him. We won a national team title, as well. I ended up in Ashland wrestling at SOU. You can't have big city tendencies in a small town. So, I grew up. I ended up writing myself a book, went to a career college for business management and become a business owner. I started Kandid Cleaning Service, and it is doing well. I created a BBQ business too. But I love watching kids grow. I'm excited about our youth becoming better adults because I watched my generation become worse adults.

Q: Is there a person in your life that changed the direction you were headed?

Al: Rex Branum made me believe that I could wrestle. I had no idea what I was going to do after high school. I won the city championship twice and was second in the state. Coach Branum taught me to believe that I could do anything.

Troy: Man, I got a lot of different mentors. My dad's one of them. I look up to him because he provided for the family. He was truck driving, had always two or three jobs. He was never really home, but he always believed in whatever I wanted to do. He gave me confidence. My mom was working because we had a lot of family living with us when we first moved here.

When I got in trouble, my coaches would visit me in juvenile jail. They believed in me. Joe Petrogetti would tell me, "Troy, I see so much talent in you. You have heart, I see you being a great person. Boxing is a future for you."

My wife and kids motivate me. When my daughter was born, the whole world stopped, and nothing else mattered. I started crying in movies, I was more sentimental. My love for my family is even more intense. My wife stuck with me. That's true love, to stick with me through thick and thin.

God too. I don't go to church every Sunday, but I believe in a higher power. I have conversations with God, arguments with God. I have this one shot. I know He keeps me on the path. Sometimes I'm talking to myself, but sometimes I feel like I'm talking to the Holy Spirit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know before?

Al: There are no limitations. If you walk with the lights off and you bump your head, the next time you go through a dark room you’re going to duck and crawl. Some people just go through life like that. Find out where the lights are. When you put limits on yourself, you can't reach your potential. I’ve learned, limitations are fallacies.

Troy: What I know now is: without vision people will perish. I want a big vision and to shoot for it. I love being scared because I like to conquer stuff. I've learned to control my emotions and talk through things. I’ve learned to ask people for support. When they see what you’re doing to change lives, they’ll support you.

Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.

Spartan Boxing

Spartan Boxing is a nonprofit boxing gym located at 729 Welch St., in Medford. Spartan Boxing is family-oriented, focused on training minds of local youth to properly channel their aggression.

It is dedicated to sportsmanship, fair play, physical conditioning and mental, spiritual and emotional health. The importance of education is stressed. Boxers develop self-confidence and self-esteem while learning pugilistic skills and self-defense.

Each session begins with a series of stretches and exercises. New members spend their first few sessions learning basic skills such as stance, footwork, movement and punches. Experienced students move to advanced circuit training. The training is highly refined and produces well trained boxers. All student athletes must be passing classes, have good school attendance and positive behavior reports to compete.

The gym is open from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3:30 to 8 p.m. for members. Classes are offered in boxing, mixed martial arts, Brazilian jiu jitsu and salsa boxing.

More information can be found at www.spartanboxinggym.com or by calling 541-973-2182.