“To be a fighter you have to want it… You can’t do this halfway, you can’t do this and not get hit!” –Robert Vanacore
Robert Vanacore reflects on the precise moment when his life changed. The year is 1971 and amidst the political turmoil and international uncertainty, the world turned its focus on two athletes in the peak of their careers. The “Fight of the Century” occurred on March 8, 1971, when the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Frazier, won a 15-round decision over Muhammad Ali, until then undefeated and calling himself the champion. (See video highlights of this fight below).
The humble, working class-style of Joe Frazier appealed to the nine-year old, soon-to-be boxer. That appeal turned to complete adoration and reverence; and, ultimately, inspiration.
Robert Vanacore grew up in a rough section of Huntington Station, Long Island surrounded by Ali fans. He would box with his friends after school and defend Frazier’s honor against the neighborhood kids in the Long Island suburb.
At 15, the young fighter started competing with a club and began to learn the sweet science (the art of boxing) rather than just fighting. This also brought about older friends and a party lifestyle that took away from the training aspect.
The young boxer had a passion and talent for the sport. He set a goal to win the NY Daily News Golden Gloves (the premier amateur boxing event just short of the Olympics) and competed at the 147 lb. weight class. Despite his lack of training discipline, Vanacore made it to the semifinals (Golden Glove legend Mark Breland won the championship that same year). From 15–26 Robert was never able to put more than two serious weeks of training together.
At 27, Vanacore decided to change his lifestyle and recommit himself to boxing; however, he was too old to compete. The year was 1999 and the Golden Gloves then raised the eligibility age from 27 to 34. Robert Vanacore could continue his quest for the “gloves.”
Banged up from an accident to his right shoulder, Vanacore began to train with new vigor but, unfortunately, he made irreparable damage to his left shoulder by overtraining on the heavy bag. With one “good” shoulder he made it to the semifinals again losing a split decision to Jeffrey Griswald.
Vanacore reflects back on his years as a competitive boxer having never received a gift decision. He says this without resentment, remorse, or regret. He simply states the details of his fighting history with the same working-class, humility that he admired in Joe Frazier.
Under his sweatshirt I notice a tattoo that looks like rosary beads draped around his neck. A closer inspection reveals a set a boxing gloves. In the next installment we’ll talk about Robert Vanacore, the trainer and his Fitness Through Boxing gym.