The Red Deer Boxing Club feels like it’s up against the ropes.
The 32-year-old non-profit group wants to grow, but has been stymied by a lack of space, limited resources, and the public perception that the facility, located off a downtown alleyway, is in an unsafe location.
The club’s founder is looking for other sites — with affordability being key.
Robert Carswell, who was presented last month with a lifetime achievement award for 50 years of dedication to the sport by Alberta Boxing, said all non-profits are facing an uphill battle, with fewer grants and more funding demands in this tight economy.
But the boxing club wants to keep on fighting to give children and youths more opportunities.
(The legal age limit was reduced to six with the introduction of protective head gear and light foam boxing gloves. Carswell noted boxers don’t get hurt until the highest levels of competition.)
The 50-member club involves many young people who don’t have other recreational options, said Carswell.
He’s mentored many pro-amateur boxers over the years, including Arash Usmanee, Cam O’Connell and Brian Samuel — as well as hundreds of other youths who have found acceptance at the club, while honing their fitness, confidence and co-ordination.
“Boxing has always been a poor man’s sport,” said his daughter, Jessica Ryan, so the fees are kept low to be inclusive.
Even youth who can’t afford the $40 a month are welcome to use the facilities, said Carswell.
“We don’t turn any kids away…”
But the Carswells, including Robert’s wife Pauline, have lately been hearing that some club members are not returning because either they, or their parents, think the downtown is unsafe and they don’t want to be there at night.
Ryan admitted she was followed by some sketchy characters while taking out the garbage, and has heard stories of boxing coaches being threatened or accosted by panhandlers.
However, Carswell believes the alley behind Ross Street is generally safe, with The Velvet Olive bar only a few doors down and a lot of people coming and going.
To help alleviate public concerns, he’s been consulting with experts about how to make the club’s entrance more visible with better lighting.
Ryan would rather move to a larger, affordable space with fewer safety issues and better accessibility for people with disabilities — such as those with Parkinson’s disease.
Carswell helped found the Dopamain Gym, a boxing program for area residents with neurological problems who want to slow the progress of their degenerative disease and feel better through more brain-to-muscle training and exercise.
It’s currently operating out of Arashi-Do martial arts because the Red Deer Boxing Club’s steep stairs present a hazard to people with Parkinson’s.
But someday, Ryan hopes to be able to bring these members into a larger, more accessible facility — and to get enough donated equipment so partnerships can also be formed with local groups that work with youths and women.
Ryan feels this was her late sister, Jamie Carswell’s, vision. The Blackfalds RCMP officer, who worked with young people, died in 2018 of breast cancer at the age of 34, leaving a young son who’s being raised by his grandparents.
As a tribute to Jamie, Ryan wants to attract more disadvantaged kids and women to the club, but first needs to seek out support from corporations, foundations or service clubs.
Anyone wanting more information can call 403-341-5680, or visit the Red Deer Boxing Club’s Facebook page.