By John Karl - CHICAGO, July 20, 2008—It’s 93 degrees at the Chicago Boxing Club just south of 35th and Halsted, and bathed in sweat, female amateur boxer Kristen Gearhart, 19, turns her body behind snappy punches that land with a solid “whap, whap, whap!” She’s hitting a pair of focus mitts held by acclaimed trainer, Sam Colonna, 48. He sees a bright future in her. “She’s pretty, she’s a hard worker, and that’s what it takes,” he says. “Hard work will take you a long way in this sport.”
Article posted on 20.07.2008
Colonna should know. After all, he ran the hallowed Windy City Gym from 1990 until it closed its doors in 2006 and, in the process, acquired a well-earned reputation by working with a long line of contenders and champions alike..
“I was there training pros, amateurs—guys like Angel Manfredy, Angel Hernandez, Jose Hernandez, Rocky Martinez—the list goes on and on—[Andrew] Golotta, [Tomasz] Adamek,” says Colonna. “Any fighter that came out of Chicago, more than likely I had something to do with them.” This point was not lost on HBO’s boxing commentator Jim Lampley, who recently gave Sam a ringing on-air endorsement.
Nowadays, Colonna co-owns the Chicago Boxing Club with Rick Ramos, a former amateur boxer and currently a broker at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. Together with another partner who shies away from the limelight, they’re starting a new tradition with a twist.
In addition to strict boxing training, Colonna works as a personal trainer. “I enjoy it,” he says. “When somebody comes in that weighs 260 lbs. and I get them down to 185, that’s a big accomplishment!”
“I don’t know if you ever watch Dr. Phil, but he had an ultimate weight loss show on a few years ago, and the guy that won it, I trained him,” he continues. “I trained him for about seven, eight months and he ended up winning the whole thing—he lost the most weight. So, I’m not only a boxing trainer, but I can get anybody to lose weight if they’re willing to work with me.”
Tragically, his pursuit of training others—and his very life—almost ended 24 years ago.
Born the son of Mary and Bernardo Colonna in Italy, Sam Colonna moved to the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport when he was eight or nine years old, and as a grownup, ran a news agency there. He boxed as an amateur and was involved in training at the Valentines Boys Club for about 10 years. Then fate struck.
“I just got married, and I was unloading a lilac tree that I cut in my yard,” Colonna says. “A kid came up to me, maybe 15, 16 years old, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, asked me for change for a twenty [dollar bill], and I told him I didn’t have it. I said, ‘Hey, what do you need?’”
The kid demanded his money, Colonna refused, and moments later, he found himself lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Colonna had been shot in the side. Fortunately, a passerby came to his aid and rushed him to the hospital. The bullet still remains lodged in his spine to this day and he wears a brace on the back of his lower right leg. However, he adds, “I’m just happy to be alive and doing what I’m doing!”
That includes producing “some of the best training—in my opinion—in the world here,” Colonna says. “We have the facility—we have two rings, and we have the sparring you’re looking for.”
In addition to boxers like Montell Griffin, Andrew Golota, Angel Hernandez, mixed martial artists also train at Chicago Boxing Club. “Terry Martin just left for California and he’s going for an MMA world title,” he says. “Shoney Carter also trains here!”
“I’ve gone to other gyms when I was younger and I asked, ‘What are they doing that we can’t do?’” He says. “You know what? To this day, I think we’re doing more than they are! It’s being at the right place at the right time and having the right fighter. I feel that we’re going to make some noise in the next year or two out of this gym.”