Express news service
CHENNAI: Dawn breaks early at Cox Colony in Chintadripet. On a hazy December morning, echoes of growls and shuffles greet us in the GS Boxing Academy. Behind the tiny blue gate, a handful of neighborhood schoolchildren listen intently to the stern instructions of their trainer U Govindaraj. It’s 5 a.m. and the visibly cramped space oozes energy and excitement. Sporting their jerseys and defensive shield, a group of children rehearse their leg exercises inside a boxing ring. The other group punch makeshift punching bags made of stacked multi-colored tires hanging from a pole.
One battle at a time
Behind this daily harshness hides the sweat of a hardworking team who transformed a dilapidated building of the Chennai City Police Boys & Girls Club into this functional 1,000 square foot space. The stained walls are painted with portraits of Dr BR Ambedkar, boxing champion Muhamma d Ali and inspirational quotes. The once neglected premises are now cleaned daily and well maintained. Thanks to Govindaraj and KS Kharthickeyen and JL Abinaya of the Whakapapa Foundation for selflessly working since late 2019 and helping underprivileged children to have better lives through amateur boxing.
The club currently trains around 35 students in the morning (5 a.m. to 8 a.m.) and in the evening (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.). Taking us behind the scenes, Govindaraj, the man who runs the series, says: “Since 2016, I have been coaching children part-time at a corporate field in Egmore. I worked full time as a loader at a train station. It was exhausting juggling the two jobs because both were labor intensive. On top of that, training in an open space during the monsoon was a challenge due to the rain and the damage it would leave behind. But it’s a crucial time of the year when we were training for national matches. Fortunately, while looking for a better place, I stumbled upon this one and grabbed the opportunity. We moved here just before the pandemic.
Running after dreams
Despite operating with minimal equipment and growing financial problems, the National Sports Institute approved trainer Netaji Subhas (NSNIS) has managed to produce medalists at the national and state levels. In three years, four young people have represented Tamil Nadu at the men’s national junior championships; one of them won a bronze medal and two were selected to participate in the upcoming Khelo India Youth Games. “All of the kids who train here come from poor families where even their next meal is uncertain. They walk into this place with big dreams of getting government jobs through sports quotas. When I had the chance, I negligently missed it and now I carry that baggage of guilt. I don’t want the same for these kids. I quit my job as a loader and decided to devote my life to training them so that they wouldn’t regret a missed opportunity for the rest of their lives, like me, ”Govindaraj says hopefully.
Kharthickeyen and Abinaya share his vision and help his dreams. The duo, through their non-profit organization, raised funds from supporters to improve the infrastructure of the academy, provide a sustainable income for the coach and organize sports facilities for the training of the children. “I met the coach when I wanted to get into boxing. After my meeting with commercial coaches I was amused to see the way he approached the game. The coach here makes sure the kids are well trained and the money is secondary. Although he adapts to what the children offer, our priority is to give him a standard salary each month since he is the backbone of the academy, ”says Kharthickeyen.
There is immense talent and potential for growth in these children. This is reflected in the way they learn with intention and train with vigor. “The kids will perform exceptionally well with a little support. For example, a pair of boxing gloves used by a child only lasts three months because he or she uses them the best. It is difficult for us to get these gears because the branded ones are expensive. Gym equipment is second-hand and will turn off at any time. Water stagnates in the academy during the monsoon. We were successful with basics during the pandemic but that might not continue, ”he adds.
Learn it the hard way
Despite a path strewn with uncertainties and new fights, the team keeps a little hope with the realization that boxing has amassed itself with the general public. The recent change in perception towards sport will pave the way for a better future, believes Govindaraj. “The preconceived notion that boxing is robust is fading. As a coach, I have to promise parents that the kids will stay disciplined and focused. I maintain a link with the parents so that if there is a problem at home with their children, they can contact me. I taught the children sportsmanship and to raise their hands only inside the ring. Our goal is to nurture and produce more talent.
The team is grateful for the constant support of Pon Baskaran, the President of the Tamil Nadu Boxing Association and renowned boxers like Lakshmikanthan and Venkatesan Devarajan. “As people are better informed, the organizers are also quick to hand out medals and certificates on time. If sport gets the attention and help it deserves from the government, then it can be promoted and taken to the next level, ”suggests Govindaraj. The academy is currently registered as a Section 8 company to ensure the proper allocation of funds to their charitable cause.
Address: GS Boxing Academy, Cox Colony, Chintadripet.
To support, call: 7904599095