AMBC spar before class begins at the new facility on Maclure Road. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Rolling with the punches

Abbotsford Mission Boxing Club settles into new home on Maclure Road

Just off of Bradner Road in Abbotsford, on a dead end and disconnected portion of Maclure Road, a family gathers three times a week.

Similar to any other family, they laugh, they hug and they enjoy each other’s company –but they also punch each other in the face.

The Abbotsford Mission Boxing Club’s new home is located at 28779 Maclure Rd., and housed in a blue warehouse are two full boxing rings, weight equipment, a half dozen punching bags, and historical nods to boxing’s past in the form of pictures and posters.

In short order, the club has created a home in this unique setting, and has come back stronger after being forced to leave its former home at Mission’s Durieu Elementary earlier this year. Durieu had been the club’s home for the past six years.

Head coach Dale Gatin has been involved with the club from its start in 2005. The first location was inside the North Fraser Fire Department. Gatin went from there to a location in Deroche to a venue on London Avenue, but Gatin said the rent eventually became too high and then he moved the club to Durieu.

Gatin said it was a stressful experience trying to find a facility to house his club in the Fraser Valley.

“It was very hard finding a spot in Abbotsford,” he said. “I was phoning everyone I knew but there just wasn’t a lot available. The places that were available were either too small for us or just too expensive.”

Enter former AMBC member and co-owner of Countdown Escape Rooms Sean McIntosh.

“I called one of my former boxers [McIntosh] and he told me about a warehouse he was using for setup and storage for that business and he also creates haunted houses and things like that,” Gatin said. “He wanted to downsize and it was the perfect opportunity for us. We got very lucky with this place.”

The warehouse is actually located on a family farm, and the AMBC got to work shortly after taking it over. Club members helped out by cleaning the place entirely, moving in the huge amount of boxing and weight equipment. Things finally got going in March.

“Everyone pitched in and helped out,” Gatin said. “So many people put in the hours to make this place come together.”

For boxer Marnie Szarapka, the move really saw the club come together and work as a team and a family.

“When we left Durieu, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “But we had members come clean, paint, help move things and even guys who were plumbers helped put the toilets in on their own time. We had guys who work construction donate cement and help out in any way they could.”

The club has become a big part of Szarapka’s life. The mother and wife has fought two amateur matches, sporting a record of 1-1 and she said entering the sport has helped her gain confidence and give her a goal to achieve.

“I’m a mother but sometimes you disappear in that role,” she said.

“I started going to the gym and this was just something I really wanted to do. It’s a way to release all the energy and frustration you have in a positive way. It made me feel like I was building myself back up.”

Szarapka has been training in the sport for about three and a half years, originally training out of Surrey. When she and her family moved to Abbotsford, she joined the AMBC and it became a perfect fit.

“There’s no judgment here and we all support each other,” she said. “You’re able to get in the ring and give each other a beating and then give each other a big hug after. I’ve created some dear friendships here, both young and old, because we have such a big dynamic of people coming here. But we all just support each other.”

Szarapka said she has never felt unsafe in the ring or during training, and said the club always practises with headgear and other protective equipment.

“We’re all very closely watched by the coaches and are told to punch at only about 30 per cent strength,” she said. “I’d just like to see more girls get into this.”

She understands it can be intimidating entering a boxing club for the first time, but said the AMBC is very easygoing and the benefits far outweigh any risks.

“The sport really gives you a different perspective on life,” she said. “You’re walking into a bit of a man’s world but I wasn’t pushed away here; I was welcomed and treated like an equal. The sport really teaches you how to defend yourself and avoid getting hit more than anything. It’s an art, not a street fight.”

Gatin said he realizes the worries of concussions are on the minds of parents and those entering the sport, but said the AMBC always tries to be safe.

“You have to be concerned with concussions, but we focus a lot on moving around the ring and learning how to protect yourself at all times,” he said.

He pointed out that members don’t even have to spar, and many people in the club come for the cardio training, circuit training, core work or even the weight room.

Gatin said the sport has helped many people with self-esteem and confidence and pointed out that the same man who found the warehouse for them is the perfect example of someone who boxing made a better person.

“He started when he was 14 and wasn’t a natural at all,” Gatin recalled of McIntosh. “But it began to really make a difference in his self-esteem and confidence. He was very shy before, but boxing helped him come out of his shell. He actually lost his first match, but didn’t want to give up and told me he wanted a re-match with the same guy who beat him. He trained for a year, and just kept training and, when they fought again, he won.”

The club is open to anyone aged seven and up and trains three days a week for 90 minutes.

Gatin said the move has been good in some aspects because now the club is much more accessible for people in Aldergrove, Langley, Mission and Abbotsford.

Contact him at 604-826-1455 or email him at gatin@shaw.ca.

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Abbotsford Mission Boxing Club coach Dale Gatin has found a new home for his fighters on Maclure Road. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

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