After researching and writing this story for Freshwater Cleveland on boxing gyms fostering social connections in city neighborhoods, Justin Glanville knew there was more to the story.
Everyone knows what boxing gyms are supposed to be like: Gritty. Tough. The very air flecked with sweat and reverberating with testosterone-fueled grunts and coaches’ growls.
The first time I walked into Old Angle Boxing Gym
on West 25th Street in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, it was pretty much exactly like that. But under the toughness was something else. Or rather, someone else.
Gary Horvath, the owner, stepped out from behind his steel desk and shook my hand. Right away, I realized I was in the presence of someone special.
It wasn’t anything in particular he said. It wasn’t that he smiled a lot. In fact, he smiled very little because he was self-conscious about his missing front teeth. Instead, it was the respect and attention he gave to every single person who walked through his doors.
You were a 10-year-old runt who was bullied at school? Come on in. You were a woman who’d been told boxing was for guys? Come on in. You were a bespectacled reporter who practiced yoga and had practically never thrown a punch (read: self)? Come on in. And once you were in, you got this message: Gary Horvath wants you to become the best person you can be and he believes you can.
It wouldn't come from getting beaten up; he wouldn’t let anyone in the ring until they’d been training at least six months. It came from learning the arts of discipline and self-respect.
“Anyone who walks out of my gym beaten and bloody is a defeat for me,” he told me. “It means I wasn’t paying attention, I wasn’t caring for them and they weren’t caring for themselves.”
I’d come into Old Angle expecting to find out boxing itself was the thing that lifted people up. But boxing was just a tool. The real lift came from Gary.
I wanted to learn more about him. I wanted to learn from him. So I did what any bespectacled reporter who meets someone fascinating does: I enlisted my good friend Paul Vogelsang, a video producer at North Water Partners
, and we made a short documentary.
Paul and I followed Gary around for more than a year. He invited us into his gym, his home and his neighborhood. We learned his personal history as a boxer, how he works with kids from difficult homes – and why his days in the gym may be numbered.
He even got us to train with him for one grueling three-hour session. Make sure to stick around until the end of the movie for the humiliating but hilarious results.
Here, then, is the product of our year with Gary, known to his friends as “the Pope of West 25th Street.” I hope we did him justice. But the best part for me? I got to spend a year in his presence.
I know I believe in myself just a little more for it.