VIENNA, W.Va.- When Ben Murphy lost a schoolyard fight at age 14-after three punches-it marked a turning point in his life.
Today, Murphy, 19, from Toronto, Canada, is a student at Ohio Valley University in Vienna and is one of seven students there forming a boxing team, despite the challenges.
"My dad knew Bryon Mackie, the former Canadian middleweight boxing champion, who had an amateur boxing club in Toronto," he said. "Dad said I could go on doing what I was doing or I could learn how to box."
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Gilda Arendse, of Miami, Fla., practices throwing a few punches at Ben Murphy of Toronto, Canada, during a boxing training session at Ohio Valley University Sunday evening. Arendse is among seven members of a boxing team not affiliated with the school but made up of OVU students.
Boxing was sort of a family tradition, he said. His dad took up hockey but Murphy's grandfather and great-grandfather were both boxers in their native Scotland.
For the next five years Murphy trained with Mackie and not only developed a passion for boxing but also learned self-discipline and some other valuable life lessons.
"Once I got into it, I was addicted," Murphy said. "Working out at the gym after school gave me a great feeling I'd never had before."
About the team
- A group of seven Ohio Valley University students have formed a boxing team not affiliated with the college.
- Members of the team plan to participate in the Arnold (Schwarzenegger) Sports Tournament in Columbus March 1-4, and in a Golden Gloves boxing competition later that month.
- The team members are currently looking for facilities where they can train and store their equipment.
He never had another fight at school but with Mackie's encouragement became a mentor at school.
"Mackie used his gym to help other kids, too," Murphy said. "He hoped to make boxing a sport the whole family could be involved in."
When he arrived at OVU, Murphy hoped to start a boxing team as part of the school's athletic program but college administrators denied a request from Murphy and other students interested in the sport.
OVU Athletic Director Dennis Cox said the school could not accommodate boxing as an intercollegiate program.
"We're a small college with limited facilities and we couldn't offer supervision for that program," he said.
A group still began to form, without the affiliation, and equipment was loaned to them by former Parkersburg boxing pro Gary Wolfe. The team is still seeking storage and practice space.
"We're still looking for a place," Murphy said Sunday. "For now we just train wherever we can-at other gyms like Planet Fitness, in our dorms, or other places. We have a bag full of equipment we take with us from room to room wherever we practice here at the school. But we need a more permanent location."
Sunday night Murphy and some current team members practiced sparring in a back room of one of the former OVU administrative buildings.
Gilda Arendse, 19, of Miami, Fla., is the team's only female member.
Like Murphy, Arendse said she also became addicted to the sport, although she has to practice sparring with her male counterparts.
"At first it was just something new for me to try," she said. "But it's really fun and training with the guys just makes me work harder because they're usually taller and stronger."
Arendse said many people think of boxing as a way to release their frustrations.
"But that's not why I like to box," she said. "It clears my mind and I just feel better afterward."
Murphy said Arendse will join some of the other team members to compete during the Arnold (Schwarzenegger) Sports Festival March 1-4 in Columbus, as well as in a Golden Gloves tournament later that month.
Kobina Henriques, 21, is also an OVU student from Miami who recently joined the amateur boxing team during the 2011 fall semester.
"I'm a wrestler but always wanted to try boxing," he said. "It's like wrestling but you're standing up and doing more cardio, moving your arms more."
For Cleveland native Donald May, 20, boxing presents a special challenge.
"I have cerebral palsy on my right side," he said. "But I love boxing, I'm meeting some interesting people and I couldn't ask for a better time."
May, who just joined the team this year, admits it's a struggle sometimes.
"But my goal is to work and build up strength to compete in the Special Olympics," he said.
Caleb Wetzel, 18, from Weirton, W.Va., started training with the team in September.
"I saw them boxing in a classroom one night and thought it was a college class, so I asked how I could sign up," he said. "I had played football in elementary and high school but wanted to try boxing."
Wetzel had initially promised his father he wouldn't play another contact sport but later he explained to his dad that, statistically, proper amateur boxing is safer than playing soccer.
Still, mishaps do occur, as Murphy discovered after being accidentally hit in the nose during a recent sparring session.
"We wear the gloves, mouth guards and plenty of gear and padding but you also have to learn how to take a hit-how to move away from it and to duck the punches," he said. "You have to work every muscle in your body and be in top-notch shape to box."
Another team member, Cody Weaver, 20, of Fredericksburg, Ohio, knows what it takes.
"When I started in the middle of my first semester last year I weighed 280 pounds," he said. "Now I've dropped to 155 and have joined the college cross-country team."
Murphy said for now the boxing group will only include interested OVU students, but the future of the team will depend a lot on finding a good location for training and storing equipment.