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Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019
Gord Apolloni battles on
by Randy Pascal

Gord Apolloni is a fighter. Always has been - likely always will be.

It's a good thing too. That inate scrappiness has served him well over the past 30 to 40 years, during his time representing both Sudbury and Canada in the ring as a boxer, as well as during the past few decades as a coach.

The youngest of three boys in the family born in Sudbury and raised in Copper Cliff, Apolloni seemed destined for boxing, almost from the start. "I think I started boxing when my brothers were beating me up," he said with a laugh.

"I lived on the other side of the tracks, and any time we crossed the tracks, you put your hands up and we're ready to go," Apolloni said. It was following a typical dust-up, at the tender age of nine or ten, that his father would first send the precocious youth to the Shamrock Boxing Club.

Though he achieved plenty of success within the amateur ranks in the years to come, Apolloni would also be exposed to the vagrancy of the sport, training at the Canadian Amateur Boxing Club, Sudbury Regional Boxing Club, Valley East Boxing Club, Copper Cliff Boxing Club and Phoenix Boxing Club, all within a span of a dozen years or so.

In 1979, with the Moscow Olympics clearly in sight, Apolloni achieved his greatest international success, finishing 6th at the world championships in Japan. The 1980 boycott of the Olympics may have shelved his dreams in the ring, but not his passion for the sport.

In fact, by that time, the first inklings of a future coach were clearly apparent. "Competing internationally, I saw that there was a lot more to boxing than just what was happening in Sudbury," Apolloni said.

"I was always looking around, always asking questions. I think the coaching aspect was in me all the time." Initially pursuing a post-secondary degree in the early 1980's, Apolloni left for an opportunity that was simply too tempting.

"I left to pursue an apprenticeship in coaching in Toronto through the Coaching Association of Canada, working under Adrian Teodorescu (amateur coach for Lennox Lewis)," Apolloni said.

"I learned a lot about politics and I learned a lot about training methods and international boxing." But funding in a sport that simply was not growing remained a constant challenge.

Working full-time in the Sudbury area with Corrections Canada, Apolloni quickly filled his schedule, assisting as a boxing coach on the side, helping Lasalle graduate Mike Stewart to a world title at the AIBA Junior Boxing Championships in 1992.

Yet beyond the success of the handful of elite athletes that Apolloni has helped groom, lies the true measure of his coaching ability. "I think that my rapport with everyone really helps - I'm not afraid of talking with anyone, and I like helping people," he said.

"As long as those kids leave this gym as a better person, then I've done my job as a coach." With the help of long-time boxing afficianado and official Omer Gagnon, Apolloni secured funding for a base of training equipment that would become the Top Glove Boxing Academy.

The group, initially based out of the Lionel Lalonde Centre in Azilda, served as a preparation facility for Canadian boxers readying themselves for international competition, as well as offering an ideal base for visiting athletes from a variety of foreign countries.

The Top Glove crew moved more recently to the old Knights of Columbus Hall in the downtown core, expanding their base of programs to include a wide variety of workouts aimed to develop both boxers as well as those who have little or no interest in ever entering the ring.

"You have to be creative to survive and that's what we've done," Apolloni said. The facility now welcomes hockey teams and a host of individuals, looking to capitalize on some of the learning that the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame member has acquired over countless years of international travel and competition.

"Places like Cuba, Russia, the Ukraine - they all have certain training programs that work," Apolloni said. And if the world around him has changed, if the sport of boxing is not what is was "back in the day", so too has morphed the talkative Italian.

"I think I don't put up with the crap anymore," Apolloni said with a smile. "It just seems that instant gratification has become the norm. A lot of kids come in here and I'll outline the process, but they just want to put the gloves on."

A changing society is hardly the singular obstacle to overcome in the sport. Funding is limited, and the irony strikes Apolloni like a left hook between the eyes.

"My parents came from Italy to Canada for a better life. I would have to leave Canada and go to Italy for a better life in coaching boxing." Not that Apolloni is likely to do that.

He simply won't give up the fight at home. It's not who he is.

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