When we grow, we just don’t enlighten ourselves but provide a ray of hope to people around us. By striving against the odds, we make others believe that they can do it too. Something similar is being done at an abandoned school in Nekoosa, central Wisconsin, where an old trainer is defying all odds to train some young boxing enthusiasts in the city. This happens and it blocks strikes to the body if it is in early ages.
The Story of Wisconsin Rapids Boxing Club
Located at an abandoned school in a small paper mill town, the entrance to the Rapids Boxing Club reads “Rapid Boxing” at its dingy entrance. After climbing a flight of stairs, one reaches the third floor of the building where they can hear the faint sounds of people drumming some heavy duty boxing equipment in short intervals.
The entrance to the gym is filled with several motivational quotes and posters and a little signboard that reads “Annual Gym Fee. $20. Pay Ken or Karel.” Ken is actually Ken Hilgers, a 69-year-old retired power mill powerhouse operator who is willing to teach the art of boxing to anyone who steps foot in his gym.
“We used to have a boxing club in every town. We used to compete every single weekend.” Ken Hilgers commented on the state of boxing clubs in the city back in the days.
Ken had trained Dale Horn, a 1970 champion boxer who had won more than 100 amateur bouts and was also a five-time state champion. However, university boxing programs have faded over time, and small-town boxing clubs such as these only remain a few in number.
Rapids Boxing Club Through the Years
The boxing club has been running for more than 40 years in which more than 1300 boxers have undergone training under him. Out of those, 30 went on to become the state champions in Wisconsin.
Some of the most famous athletes include Steve Zouski, who went on to become a professional boxer with a record of 31-18 as a professional. Ken describes him as one of his fiercest boxers and applauded his ability to take a punch and still get back up.
The club has its location changes over the years but finally settled for the abandoned Nekoosa High school. The gym is filled with boxing equipment, which has been duct taped vigorously to keep them from falling apart.
Punching bags, double-end bags, and a speed bag is hung around the gym onto a structure that looks more than 100 years old. Ken still takes pride in all his boxing equipment and stands strong behind each one of his athlete training in the ring.
The Future of the Rapids Boxing Club
“If we didn’t get this site, I was going to quit,” the 69-year-old trainer said. He talks about the time when they had to train in a senior center with no heat in the winters.
That was until two brothers, Evan and Will Stenerson, walked into his gym and were more than willing to work hard under his guidance. Evan almost became a state champion, in which he was handed the title belt out of respect to his opponent.
Ken now wishes to hand over the ownership of the gym to Nick Maher, a 24-year-old trainer who began his career under Ken’s guidance. With a shared vision of keeping the gym alive, Nick reflected on his thoughts of how these small gyms are the places that actually mold boxers into national champions.