GINGRAS PRESSES ON WITH BOXING DESPITE LIFE'S SETBACKS
Press Release: Two weeks from now, 31-year-old cruiserweight Rich Gingras will step inside the ring for just the second time in three years, continuing his improbable comeback while balancing fatherhood and running a business. Long odds, no doubt, but nothing too strenuous for Gingras, who’s overcome far more difficult obstacles on his unconventional path to stardom, a tumultuous past he’s learned to embrace rather than try to run from.
“Everything I’ve been through,” he says, “has made me into who I am today.”
A former contestant on “The Contender” reality television series, Gingras (11-2, 7 KOs) will face Terrance Smith (7-13-2, 4 KOs) in a six-round bout on May 24th, 2012 at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln, R.I.
Gingras is engaged now, with the wedding scheduled for November, and he has more than 230 clients as the owner of Fight 2 Fitness, a world-class group fitness and boxing studio in downtown Pawtucket. He’s also under the promotional guidance of Burchfield, who is working to bring his career to new heights, and his third child, Wesley, will celebrate his first birthday in June.
Life is good, but there are still harsh realities Gingras can’t shake, the realities of growing up in a lower-class family with no positive role models to teach him the difference between right and wrong – a lesson Gingras often learned the hard way, either unintentionally or through his own wrongdoing.
Born in Concord, Mass., Gingras had few friends growing up while his family moved from city to city in New England, including stops in Newton, Waltham and Billerica before leaving Massachusetts and settling in New Hampshire prior to Gingras’ teenage years.
“I just didn’t really care about investing time in anyone because I knew I wouldn’t be around long enough,” Gingras said.
At the age of 9, shortly after his parents divorced, Gingras learned his father, Wilford, had contracted HIV through a heroine needle. The reality didn’t set in until Gingras began reading about the severity of the disease in school.
“He disappeared for a year and a half,” Gingras recalled. “He got real depressed and tried to kill himself.”
Around the same time, Gingras also became the victim of sexual abuse by a male employee at the Boys & Girls Club in Watertown, which remained a secret for nearly three years until one his teachers discovered it while thumbing through Gingras’ journal.
“He told me if anyone found out, something bad would happen to my family,” Gingras said. “I was scared.”
The abuse, both physically and mentally, took its toll on Gingras. Within four years of contracting HIV, his father passed away, and Gingras began drifting further off course in school and at home. He frequently got into fights – “I never started them, but I won them all,” he boasts – and his grades slipped. When his eighth-grade teacher told him he couldn’t play football if his grades didn’t improve, Gingras decided he was done with school.
“That’s the only reason I was going to school to begin with,” he said. “I’d rather go out and smoke some weed, mess around a little, and act like an adult.”
Shortly thereafter, Gingras came face-to-face with real, adult responsibilities when he conceived his first child at the age of 16. Richard Gingras Jr. was born with Arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder characterized by multiple joint contractures.
“He had club feet, and he couldn’t bend his elbows,” Gingras said. “His toes touched the bottom of his feet. That’s how badly his feet were curled up.
“The funny thing is when my girlfriend was pregnant, I kept telling my friends, ‘This kid is going to be a bad-ass!’ so it’s ironic that when he came out he wasn’t able to bend his elbows.”
By then, Gingras’ mother had remarried, and Gingras had moved out on his own, staying at random friends’ houses – “couch-hopping,” as he called it.
“My parents had rules, and I didn’t want to follow them,” he said. “I was 16 going on 30. I wanted to have fun. I didn’t want to come home at nine o’clock. I was into making babies and getting high.”
The youngest of four children – three boys, and one girl – Gingras didn’t receive much guidance from his siblings. His oldest brother, Christopher, now 40, served as a father figure, but often encouraged Gingras to solve problems with his fists.
“One day at the park, some kid took my swing set and he said, ‘Rich, don’t take that [stuff]. Kick his ass!’” Gingras said. “I didn’t want to. I started crying and he made me go over there and beat the kid up. I was always gentle, but I could fight.”
The pressure of fatherhood at a young age ultimately got the best of Gingras, who left the mother of his child shortly after the pregnancy and began hitting the streets while his son spent the better part of his infancy in therapy.
Trouble soon followed – more drinking, more fights, and, shortly thereafter, a 30-day jail sentence at the age of 17 for possession of a narcotic (marijuana).
Would that be the turning point in Gingras’ life?
“Hell no,” he said. “I got into fights in jail, too. They were feeding me constantly. I fattened right up. It was like a vacation. I wasn’t too worried about it.
“Nothing really scared me at that moment.”
Shorty after his release, Gingras met another girl, conceived another child at the age of 19, and then fled to Albany, N.Y., for a year to dodge the police – they had a warrant out for his arrest on a separate assault charge – while the soon-to-be mother attended school.
The law eventually caught up with Gingras again during a brief visit back home in New Hampshire. One night, Gingras got so high he started a fistfight and then broke into the victim’s home, inadvertently cutting his arm and leaving a blood stain on the wall. A year later, the police matched the DNA and nabbed Gingras for burglary, resulting in a one-year sentence.
The second stint behind bars helped Gingras reunite with his son, who visited frequently, but Gingras continued to move in the wrong direction even while on parole.
“I was starting to play a role in his life, but I was still living a crappy lifestyle,” he said. “I was on parole for five years, yet I’d serve a month here, two months there – all in all, I spent two and a half years of my life in jail.
“One day I’m in there and I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing? I’ve got to cut this out.’”
At the age of 21, Gingras finally began turning his life around. He gained full custody of his son while his daughter, Jada, continued to live with her mother in Albany. Struggling with what he referred to as the “transition from being a bad-ass to a good person,” Gingras found new ways to pass the time; one night, he attended a local amateur boxing show in New Hampshire.
“I thought to myself, ‘I could do this! I could beat the crap out of every one of these guys,’” he said.
He decided to start training at a gym in Claremont, a community center where boxing was so foreign they hung heavy bags on a set of chains from the basketball rims.
“They didn’t even have a ring,” Gingras said.
That following day, he smoked his last cigarette, flicked it on the ground and stepped inside the gym, where he met his first boxing coach, Ed Farris, now the manager of undefeated middleweight Demetrius Andrade.
Farris guided Gingras through an improbable, yet wildly successful, amateur career in which Gingras won the Vermont Golden Gloves Tournament as a heavyweight, captured two Rocky Marciano Tournament titles and advanced to the Ringside World National Championships in Kansas City.
“Boxing is such a small community, but no one knew who the hell I was at the time,” Gingras said. “Everyone was overlooking me. I didn’t even have a uniform. I walked in there with Nike shorts and a white tank top, but I blasted everyone out.
“No one could get past the second round with me.”
Once the word got out, Gingras had a hard time finding opponents willing to face him in the amateurs, so he made his professional debut in 2006 at the age of 25. Having outgrown the outdated facilities in New Hampshire, he began working with trainer Peter Manfredo Sr. in Pawtucket, driving six hours each day, five days per week, sometimes even sleeping in the parking lot between trips.
At 9-0 with five knockouts, Gingras embarked on the opportunity of a lifetime when “The Contender” recruited him to compete in its cruiserweight tournament in Singapore in 2008. Though he lost his first and only fight on the show to then-unbeaten prospect Deon Elam, a fight in which Gingras knocked his opponent to the canvas, Gingras won the fan vote based on his popularity and was invited to the series’ finale the following year at Foxwoods Resort Casino. He lost that fight, too, a unanimous decision against undefeated Ryan Coyne.
“It gave me a lot of experience,” Gingras said. “It put me in an uncomfortable situation being the smallest guy with the least amount of experience. It was like [reality television series] ‘The Real World,’ except we were fighting. No cameras, no TVs – it was a surreal, stressful situation.”
With two losses under his belt, Gingras’ career plateaued.
“The money sucked, and people wanted me to fight out of town,” he said. “I needed to take a step back. I was 28 now. I asked myself, ‘What’s my backup plan?’
He found the answer working at LA Boxing in North Attleboro, Mass., where he became the head trainer within two years and met his current fiancé, Alyssa.
“The wheels in my head began spinning,” he said. “I thought, ‘I should make a living out of this!’”
By the time LA Boxing closed its doors for good in 2011, Gingras celebrated the grand opening of Fight 2 Fitness. Several days later, his fiancé gave birth to their first child – Gingras’ third. The gym broke even within three months and began turning a profit shortly thereafter, an “unbelievable” turn of events, according to Gingras, given the current state of the economy.
“Most people think I have this college education because I own my own business,” he said, “but the last grade I completed was eighth grade. I was in special education classes my whole life. I’m pretty much self-made.”
Through it all, he never lost his desire to fight.
“I told Alyssa as soon as the gym can sustain itself I’m getting back in the ring,” he said. “She supported me all the way. I didn’t stop fighting because I wanted to; I felt I needed something to fall back on. Boxing is a difficult sport to raise a family in. Someday, you won’t be able to do it. Then what? You can’t retire at 35. I needed something to keep me moving.”
As promised, Gingras returned to the ring in March, knocking out Adam Harris in the second round of a scheduled six-round fight. He’ll make his CES debut on the 24th at 180 pounds and eventually drop to light heavyweight (175 pounds).
“That’s where I belong,” he said. “I’m 5-foot-10. The guys I’m fighting at 180 are at least six-feet tall. I’m strong at cruiserweight, but why not have a level playing field?”
At 31, the odds may be stacked against Gingras, but it’s hard to doubt anyone who’s already been through so much and overcome so many obstacles. Gingras’ journey is the ultimate rags-to-riches story, the epitome of what we embrace as the American Dream. Given his recent success, it’s quite possible the most compelling chapter of his life has yet to be written.
“Things are going well,” he said. “I work about 70 hours a week, so it’s crazy getting back into the fight game. All my free time is going into training.
“They say you hit your prime around 30. Some days I wake up and say to myself, ‘How the hell am I going to do this today?’ I drive to New Hampshire every weekend to pick up my daughter – 12 hours a week just driving – but I told my fiancé I need to do this before I get old, or else I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
Tickets can be purchased by calling CES at 401.724.2253/2254, online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, at the Players Club booth at Twin River, or through any TicketMaster location.