KELOWNA – One of B.C.’s last remaining boxing clubs is getting a fresh start thanks to some help from a local business owner.
Kelowna’s Thistletown Boxing Club first opened in 2007. For seven years it was managed by former National champion Graham McIntosh before financial troubles forced him to close the doors in July. A trained chef as well, McIntosh started work at SliderZ Community House restaurant. That’s where he met owner Darren Bates.
Bates says he quickly saw the passion he had for training and teaching and decided to help get his business back on track.
“As far as boxing goes Graham is a bit of a legend,” Bates says. “I had more interest in helping my chef get his place back than I ever had in setting up a fighting club. This is more about trying to help someone out who deserves it.”
McIntosh, a polite, clean-cut and well spoken man in his early 40's, started boxing in 1982. He is a former coach of B.C. Boxing, two time Golden Gloves champion, six time Ontario champion and a Canadian national champion. He's fought in the Commonwealth games and the World Cup and even trained with Lennox Lewis in the late 80’s.
Originally from Scotland, McIntosh moved to Kelowna from Ontario in 2006.
“The first thing I wanted to do when I got here was volunteer as a coach somewhere,” he says. “I really wanted to get back into boxing. I missed it so much.”
Since opening his club in 2007 he has produced more than two dozen Provincial champions, ten Golden Gloves champions and sent athletes to Nationals every year.
He says the secret to his success is a combination of inspiring good work ethic and learning how to foster talent.
“I like to think I’m good at nurturing the students who put in the hard work,” he says. “If they put in the work I give them all I can.”
Both Bates and McIntosh have the same vision for the newest version of Thistletown, which reopened this week.
“This is a gym for average Joe’s,” Bates says. “It doesn’t look fancy but it’s got a lot of character to it. And most importantly, it’s for every single person. We want people who have never thrown a punch before to feel comfortable.”
His students range from high level athletes – he has several who play for the Okanagan Sun - to those who just want to get in shape and blow off some steam.
“My students are really a cross-section of the community,” McIntosh says. “We’ve had bankers and teachers, lawyers, construction workers, students, hockey and football players and young kids. I’ve coached people as old as 72.
“It’s really for everyone. Not everyone has to go in the ring and fight but I train everyone like they’re fighters. I give them the technical background, the cardio and strength and I give them the confidence that hopefully translates into their life endeavors. That’s the main thing.”
McIntosh says parents who are considering boxing as an outlet for their kids need not worry it will turn them into bullies.
“It does the exact opposite,” he says. “It gives you the ability to take care of yourself and it gives you the confidence to walk away from a fight. The amount of energy they expel in the gym makes them more dedicated to eating and sleeping properly, getting their homework done… it’s all about balance.”
Thistletown will have membership and drop in options available and both McIntosh and Bates are careful not to characterize the gym.
“It will be what the members want it to be,” he says. “This is for everyone not just for the Floyd Mayweather’s or Mike Tyson’s of the world. It’s a place where you can be yourself and just focus on developing as a person.”
An open house is planned for Wednesday, Dec. 17 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at 1054 Ellis St.
For more information, visit the Thistletown website.
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