In the back room of the Native Friendship centre on North Fraser Rd., at the Two Rivers Boxing Club, Wally Doern trains young men and women, developing their strength, self control and instilling pride in their abilities.
The room is simple, with years of use showing in its walls and floor. Booms, with heavy bags hanging from them during training, are the only specialized equipment, other than a temporary ring the boxers set up when it’s time to spar. It’s something of a spartan environment, but it warms up when the athletes file in.
The young boxers line up to throw a series of punches at Doern or one of the older athletes, or gather in large circles to do jumping jacks to music, the bass of which rebounds around the room. Doern at intervals sits back and watches, takes part in the training and encourages the boxers in their efforts.
Many of the boxers, from the pre-teens to the over thirties, dream of getting to the real ring, the one on a dais that people gather around and the air turns electric when a bout opens up and the boxers deliver jab after jab, swing after swing, chasing opponents to corners, or being chased themselves.
Before that happens, Doern has to gather outside boxers, organize the event and promote the bout. Only after all that work by Doern will boxers find themselves in the ring, with Doern sitting ringside and proffering words of encouragement and advice to his boxers each time he unfolds their stools for their break.
For that work, in the gym, in the city and ringside, Doern has been inducted into the B.C. Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame.
The induction is a cap on a long career in boxing, both inside and beside the ring.
“A real honour,” Doern calls it, “ in the twilight of my career.”
The boxers he trains are happy to see their coach get some recognition.
“I think Wally greatly deserves this honour,” Kyle Tessier, who joined the club three years ago, said.
Tessier credits Doern’s teaching with an improvement in self-confidence and skill.
“He’s never harsh; he’s patient and he gives everyone a chance to compete when they say they’re ready.” Dan Mott, a Two Rivers Boxer of three years, said of Doern.
It’s the patience and the gentleness in criticism that Doern feels has found him success with his boxers.
Boxing, for Doern, started in Hope, where he grew up.
Terrorized by bullies in school, Doern hated to go to school and hated coming home from school as bullies often waited for him along his route. The answer to the bullying, for Doern, was boxing.
In the ring and in the gym he found pride and the ability to gaining stick up for himself. The empowerment he felt when he started training hasn’t left him; now he tries to instill that in the young people he trains, giving them somewhere good to be on Friday nights, along with skills to be proud of and a dose of confidence.
In 1964, Doern came north to Quesnel and three years later he opened his first boxing club. Since then, he’s had a string of clubs, opening them when he could, working around career constraints as much as possible by taking flexible jobs, and closing them when family or career required him to put his passion on hold. The last hiatus was in 2004, when Doern worked the oil patch for five years prior to retirement.
Now retired, Doern doesn’t have to juggle the gym with a job.
After years of pouring energy and passion into boxing Doern has flown high and, at times, felt closer to the bottom.
“The boxer has the advantage in some ways, if he doesn’t want to come, he’s not feeling well or something, he can stay at home, but with me, you know, to be honest there are nights when I really don’t want to go, but I have a commitment and I have to be there,” Doern said.
But the remedy for the doldrums is exactly where he’s headed: to the kids.
“Once I get to the club and I start working with the kids, especially the little fellows with the enthusiasm in their eyes and how hard they’re trying to learn the skills and how hard they’re training, for me it’s very rewarding.”
The highs in his long career are easier to see, characterized as they are by a long list of awards, both in Quesnel, 2003 community booster and 2002 Club of the year, and in the larger boxing community, the Harrold Mann Achievement Award, along with a trip in 2000 to the Nationals where a boxer he trained medalled.
As Doern sits on top of the years of experience, and this crowning award, he looks forward and doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon: the club is too precious to close and he hasn’t found his successor quite yet.