Former Olympian boxer opens home gym in Jefferson Park
by JASON MEREL
Northwest Side residents can learn how to punch and block, practice their footwork and improve their physical and mental health from former Olympian "Big’ John Douglas out of his home gym in Jefferson Park.
"I was the flag bearer (at the Olympics) so it was a very proud moment for me," Douglas said. "It was a dream come true and since then I learned life is what you make it."
Douglas was an Olympic boxer in the light-heavyweight division for his home country of Guyana in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, which were the beginning of his professional boxing career until his last fight in 2010.
Though he lost to Stipe Drews from Croatia in the second round in the Olympics, he went on to win seven matches, lost 14 and had three draws by split decision in his entire career, according to the Web site BoxRec.com.
"Big" John, as he prefers to be called, said he was watching the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and fell in love with boxing. Douglas said that he went to church, told his pastor he wanted to be an Olympic boxer in the 1996 games and his pastor told him, "God said you are going," so he began training.
Douglas said he trained for 3 and 1/2 years and was one of 11 boxers who were sent from Guyana to Argentina for Olympic training. He was the only Guyanese boxer that qualified for the 1996 games.
After the Olympics, Douglas came to America, trained out of the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, NY, home to more than 100 boxing champions, and began training boxers as young as 6-years-old in 2004.
"You learn how to punch, where your power is and what you can do to protect yourself," he said. "It’s fun to see someone train and go from one stage to another."
But Douglas emphasized that mental strength is just as important in boxing as physical strength.
‘If you tell your body to shut down, it’s going to shut down because the mind controls the body. Guys used to hit me and I’d just brush it off," he said. "It’s all mental, you play with their mind like that. It might hurt, but you can’t show it."
Edgebrook resident Cindy Juhasz said she took a class with ‘Big’ John and she appreciated his sense of humor. "His energy is next level," she said.
"There are trainers and there are teachers. When you teach, you can explain it in a way that people have fun," Douglas said. "You have to have a sense of humor in everything you do to keep people motivated."
He said a group of students came to class and he jokingly asked them if they got his message to bring a crying towel. Douglas said one of the students replied, "There’s a crying towel?"
He said that sense of humor came from the way his mother raised him but he said one of the most important lessons he took from his mom was to always try to avoid a fight.
"I don’t like to fight outside of the ring, I wasn’t raised to do that," Douglas said. "I wasn’t raised to be scared of humans."
‘Big" John said he has been teaching fitness boxing and self-defense classes out of his Jefferson Park home gym since April but he is also open to training competitive boxers. Currently, Douglas conducts the home gym business through his Web site at bigjohndouglas.com. He said the eventual plan is to open his own space in the neighborhood since he recently moved to the area with his wife.
"I never fit into what the world expected, I did what was best for me and my family," he said. "The thing I love about boxing is it keeps you motivated every day. I always tell people, "Health is Wealth: To get in shape and stay healthy, talk to Big John Douglas."