The Gleason’s Gym Fantasy Camp is in comeback mode, which is so apt for the sport of boxing, after the 2020 camp session got cancelled because of Coronavirus concerns.
Yeah, it is a comeback, in some ways mirroring the dynamic in play when fighters hang up the gloves, but then when some time passes, the urge to compete, to give it all one more shot, returns.
Bruce Silverglade and his crew of trainers and support staff are readying themselves to welcome “campers” to Honor’s Haven Resort in Ellenville, NY for the 18th camp, and guess what? There are still a few slots available, so you can take the leap, and see how you like the boxing life; the camp runs from Thursday, August 5 to Sunday, August 8.
OK, hold on, let’s strive for transparency here. When I say “the boxing life,” this camp is more so “modified boxing life.” I say that because Fantasy Camp attendees will be able to enjoy yoga classes, splashing in indoor and outdoor pools, getting their Jimmy Connors/Chris Evert on at the resort tennis courts and receiving an hour-long massage to help expel bodily tension. So, campers, like Gary Klein, will head to Ellenville, along with his missus, to get a dose of medicine which soothes his soul, tests his body and brain and gets him out of his comfort zone where he can wrestle with and successfully master challenges that once seemed like too-high hurdles.
“When I picked up running in my forties, I participated in running competitions, such as the NY Marathon,” Klein, who lives in Philadelphia, told NY FIGHTS.
“All ages would compete, and occasionally you’d spot or swiftly pass by an old, worn-out looking geezer. ‘Why were they running,’ I often heard as I listened to fellow competitors. ‘Isn’t it time they hung up their sneakers, etc.’ Then I found out that boxers are a gentler and kinder sort.”
He’s in a mode, he continued, where he’s in a zone of acceptance with who he is and how he presents. “I am now counting the days before I hit age 67, and I guess I fall somewhere in the geezer category. No longer when I tell people my age, do I get the response, ‘I thought you were much younger.’ But I’m grateful to say that younger boxers have been very respectful of my participation in this sport, despite my limitations. I did hope to keep running until I could no longer walk, but two hip replacement surgeries plus some other issues slowed me down to a painful snail’s pace. So, what would a rational person in my shoes do? Switch to boxing, of course. This transition, having put on boxing gloves for the first time at age 61, turned a lot of heads. I’d say about half the time in a subtle or not so subtle negative way…I’d hear versions of ‘Why, at your age?’ or ‘Why not something else that involves no contact?’ But never from the boxing community have I been discouraged from participating. ‘Power to you’ and ‘I hope I’m able to do that when I turn your age’ are the types of things I often hear from the boxing people. If it wasn’t for this support, plus a patient trainer, a supportive wife and family, great boxing training and last but not least, bonding experiences at two Gleason Fantasy Camps, I wouldn’t be this physically fit, healthy and happy person writing this and encouraging you to attend the upcoming camp.”
I visited Gleason’s in DUMBO, Brooklyn on July 14, to visit with my friend Bruce, and Doug Vannoni and the arguably motley but undeniably marvelous crew, including Jieun, Heather Hardy, Blimp Parsley, Leon the Cat Taylor, Don Saxby et al.
It was like meeting a college friend, after decades apart, and picking back up like no time at all had passed. But time had passed, and strafed us all with artillery blasts which left us a bit bloodied, only a bit if we were lucky.
How many times did you wonder if that scratchy throat was announcing the onset of a slide into lung failure, if that cough or that headache signaled an imminent date with a respirator? Maybe not very often, maybe you have an intrepid brain. I don’t.
I was born prematurely in 1969 with infant respiratory distress syndrome, then called “Hyaline Membrane Disease,” and the leading cause of death among preemies. My left lung collapsed and had to be re inflated, which was successfully done via the deployment of a ventilator, which mechanically pumps oxygen into your body. The air flows through a tube inserted in your mouth and down your windpipe. I was fortunate because physicians and researchers concentrated during the late 60s on improving survival rates for preemie babies born with lungs too immature to function properly. Improvements in the ventilator machines, and tweaks to the frequency the air was pumped in resulted in more babies that would have died making it, coming back from a savage precipice.
I didn’t die and really don’t think all that much about my lungs or that stint in Boston’s Children’s Hospital usually, but did when I realized that leftover scarring on my left lung might leave me compromised if I were to be infected with COVID. During worrying nights I’d sometimes find myself falling into a bleak mindset, thinking how shitty it would be for my daughters to have their dad taken from them, too early, as my wife did when her mom died from a car crash in 1989, when Jess was 10.
Then the cold would clear up and it would be another month before I’d repeat a version of this lapse into dark rumination.
Yes, it’s been a fight to stay centered as the pandemic plays out. And yes, I’m well aware that so so many people have fought hard off the ropes during the COVID crisis, and that I am fortunate to be alive and well, and enjoying my daughters’ presence in my life. And also yes, I have been aided during low moments by reminding myself of the literal and figurative challenges so many of my boxer friends have navigated.
Don Saxby, the trainer at Gleason’s, was telling me during my July 14 that in short order, his twin brother and then his father died… And how he kept his hands up, kept firing, and slipping shots, and staying in the scrap.
Klein told me more about how and why he got he got the boxing bug. “When I started with my original (and current) trainer, who I was introduced to having walked in blindly to a nearby boxing gym in a depressed section of Chester, PA, I soon after heard Gleason’s was promoting ‘white collar boxing’ and that there would be some attendees at a camp they run who were near my age. At first, I questioned whether this ‘fantasy camp’ was simply catering to the egos of businessmen and professionals who could afford to go and be perceived as successful boxers despite having very minimal skills, and hook up with over-charging trainers with known professional careers who attended the camp. But my curiosity and desire to improve led to one of my best decisions – to attend Gleason’s Fantasy Camp in the Catskills in 2017, and again in 2018. I’m now looking forward to Aug 5, 2021. What sweetened the pot for me was that my camp fee not only went to the resort but also to help support kids from Brooklyn to attend the camp for free. I also came to realize that in supporting Gleason’s in this and other ways, I was also indirectly supporting former competitive boxers who were making a pittance but doing great work to uplift inner-city kids as well as being a small part of the community that is keeping the longest active boxing gym afloat under the acumen and dedication of owner Bruce Silverglade.”
Bruce shared with me what makes this camp extra special. “What makes this so interesting, and so special is that it’s gonna put an end to COVID! This camp experience can be seen as the start of a new life. It’s about going up to the Catskills, having a lot of fun and enjoying what you’ve dreamt about for the last 18 months. So it’s a really good time to dispense with stuff in the past and look to the future, with a new challenge. It’s affordable, give Gleason’s a call and we’ll be more than happy to take care of you.”
Klein sure as hell doesn’t regret taking that initial plunge and sticking with it. “I may have a bit more money than some, and less than many others, but I’m not squandering it at posh country clubs or giving it to those who substantially profit from catering to the rich. I’m putting a portion of the discretionary income I make into the hands of trainers and staff who teach and develop boxing and life skills and receive little financial compensation for it. Boxing training makes me feel young, with an athletic purpose, which requires being humble and open to criticism, extra hard work, and is much safer than riding a bike on the street. Despite the discipline required, how many 67 year old folks can have a goal of winning a belt by competing in a sport that allows just two people, you and your opponent, be the focus of the audience and enjoying the performance? All it takes is hard work and discipline, and basic knowledge of the sweet science, which is provided at this camp.”
Klein provided me with more insights, and takeaways from being a camp vet. “My wife and I make a vacation out of the Fantasy camps,” he said.
“She does not box but enjoys the relaxing activities and the stimulating conversations she has with others who are not preoccupied with boxing sessions during the day, and we get together at night with a tasty dinner and group activity. We have sat with famous coaches, boxers, and their families at small tables seating 6 or 8, enjoying the sharing of stories and bonding taking place.”
Klein is better than Yelp at giving info which conveys what the experience of attending camp is likely to be.
“The food is very good, but not elegant, creating an atmosphere of casualness,” he shared. “I personally liked the buffet style instead of being waited on except for beverages and special requests. We could be in the forest based on the area directly surrounding the camp, but are actually in a quaint town called Ellenville that I hope we find time to explore a bit this go-round. Can’t wait until Aug. 5th!”
My advice: Pull the trigger, book a visit to Gleason’s Gym Fantasy Camp. The cost is ridiculously reasonable, and I bet you go, and report back to me that you would have gladly paid double, because you received so much nourishment to soul, and brain and body. “This can be your first step transitioning out of the difficult COVID atmosphere,” said Silverglade in closing. “If you’re finding it difficult, you take this first step, and you’re not alone, you’re with friends, champions, Hall of Famers, so you got people to help you, to pull you along. It’s a very nice opportunity.”