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Beaver Boxing in Ottawa Ontario

News: Joe Sandulo forever a Champ

Joe Sandulo sits on a couch in the cozy bungalow belonging to him and Mary, his wife of nearly 60 years. His left hand is wrapped in thick bandages.

About this time 64 years ago, three years after World War II, Sandulo was a fresh-faced 17-year-old, heading for the Olympics — in London, site of this year’s five-ring circus.

Sandulo is engaging, with a sharp sense of humour. But over time, the former flyweight boxer (110 lbs.) has been rabbit punched by life’s frailties.

Sandulo is 81 now. A recent fall from a chair threw him for a loop. Mary found him in a pool of blood, yelling in pain. His side was black and blue. His middle fingers were dislocated.

Stitched up, the boxing champ is medicated to help with the hurt.

“He’s in a lot of pain right now,” says Mary. “He wakes up screaming in the middle of the night.”

But Sandulo’s eyes light up as he talks boxing.

“I put a lot of time into it,” he says. “But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t love what I was doing. It gave me a chance to work with individuals and see how they develop not only in the sport, but in life.”

When he was running the Beaver Boxing Club, he would put in a full day as a cartographer in the armed forces. He was a sergeant major. Then he would spend five or six hours at the gym.

Sometimes there weren’t enough hours in the day for things like dinner with the family, graduations and activities with the children. It was tough at times, but there are no regrets; the impact of his dedication is huge.

“I am very proud of him,” says Mary.

A walk into the Sandulo’s basement is a walk through time. It’s a boxing museum … trophies, plaques, posters, ribbons and videos. Sandulo looks up at photos on the wall and rhymes off the names … Ian Clyde, George Chuvalo, Davey Hilton, Conroy Nelson, Joe Louis. In the boxing world, Sandulo was a somebody.

But it isn’t so much the champions and the days named after him, the spot in the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame and the certificates that verify what an excellent coach and outstanding sportsman he is. It’s his relationship with those he’s crossed paths with over the years.

He’s been suffering from short-term memory loss. He can tell you the names of boxers he fought or trained from more than 50 years ago. But remembering what was for breakfast that morning can deliver a looping left hook to a proud man.

“Sports came so natural to him,” says Mary. “To see him like he is now, it’s heartbreaking.”

He’s got an Olympic ring, with a ruby stone. He doesn’t wear it, but Mary playfully scolds him: “He doesn’t wear his wedding ring, either.”

Earl McRae once wrote in the pages of this newspaper that Sandulo was the worst-dressed man in Ottawa.

Mary was outraged.

“I told him, ‘The only time Earl sees you, you have your jogging suit on. He doesn’t see you when you go to church or when you go out to dinner,’ ” says Mary, whose golden voice has sung at weddings and funerals. “So I gave Earl a piece of my mind. He got a piece of my Irish temper. Earl just laughed at me.”

The couple hooked up on a date to a dance hall in Manotick after Mary, who was working for Bell Canada, initially turned him down. She told a friend: “He thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

It proved to be the boxer’s greatest match — they were married in 1952 — and they had three children: Mary-Jane, Patrick and Kelly.

The calls and letters keep coming from boxers who have trained under Sandulo. Some of them, he has picked up from off the mat, giving them a chance to succeed when they were on a collision course with despair.

“Two years ago, I went down to the gym,” says Mary. “And there was a man coming out the door. We started talking and I said, ‘You don’t realize how much of his life he put into the gym.’ He told me Joe had saved his life. He said, ‘So many kids come in off the street. He straightened me out. I owe him my life.’ When I heard that, I started to cry.”

Sandulo lost his only Olympic bout. It was a controversial split decision and the Canadian team paid $25 to file a protest. But over the years, he hasn’t lost many battles. When you see him smile, a twinkle in his eye, and you see the accolades of 60-something years spread over his walls, you hope he has a couple of knockout roundhouse rights to deal with the welts age delivers.

No question, the flyweight is still a champ. No controversial Olympic decision or tumble from a chair can ever take that away.

Source: Ottawa Sun