By Jamie Rebner

Bullies are cowards. They pick on easy targets because they won’t address their insecurities. It often takes years to recover from bullying because of the sheer psychological damage that’s been done. It’s a long and arduous path to rebuild your self-worth and confidence back up to the point where you feel proud of who you are. For those that do recover and pull themselves out of the darkness, they have often developed an indomitable fighting spirit, hardened inside them a will to survive that cannot be broken. They have experienced the worst pain imaginable and made it through to the other side. Whatever obstacles they may face in life, they are now equipped to handle.

Such is the case for Shady Awadallah, the head boxing coach at Ambition Boxing Club in the Pierrefonds district of Montreal. Shady spent his early childhood in Alexandria, Egypt after which he moved to Canada at the age of six. At eight years old, he was already being bullied at school so his father enrolled him in Judo at the Seidokwan Academy as a solution, where he trained for 10 years.

“When I entered high school, the bullying got even heavier and my fighting spirit was growing as the bullying was getting heavier. It got a little bit more serious because now we were talking about an adult that was bullying me because there was an adult school right next to the high school. I was an intellectual, I liked to play chess. So after the chess club, the kid would come and bully me. I was still getting better at Judo because all of this anger was coming out and feeding the fighting spirit.”

While he was rising through the ranks in judo, Shady was also playing soccer competitively, which he had done throughout his youth. Unfortunately, soccer being the rough sport that it is, he had to undergo two knee surgeries on his meniscus along the way due to injuries suffered on the field. Funny enough, his surgeon was the one who told him about the Grant Brothers, Otis and Howard, and the new boxing gym they were about to open. Keeping the Grant Brothers’ phone number in his back pocket, Shady went on with his life and decided to take a break from judo and soccer, which led him to get involved with the wrong people.

“I started getting a little bit influenced by bad people because now I am no longer in the world of sports as much, I am finding other bad things to do with my time. A year later, I’m sick of the garbage I’m doing with these guys so I decided to call the Grant Brothers number and Howard invited me to try out the boxing club.”

With his energy now dedicated to boxing, Shady was determined to constantly improve his skills. He started his amateur career at 19 years old but by 22, his university studies became too demanding and he wasn’t able to dedicate himself equally to both pursuits. Shady decided to take a break from boxing to better focus on his academics. “I was in psychology at Concordia and I had a dream of becoming a clinical psychologist and it was a very competitive program so I had to give up boxing for me to continue in school. But it pulled me right back in.”

Photo Credit: Ivana Cajina

That pull was a stage that he had to complete to be eligible to graduate. For his stage, Shady worked with at-risk youth at the YMCA. After completing the stage, the YMCA was so pleased with his work that they offered him a job, contingent on him designing a program for the kids he was working with. Given Awadallah’s passion for boxing, it was a no-brainer what his program would revolve around. With the YMCA’s approval, Shady started working with a handful of adolescents of 14-16 years old, who took to boxing. What started as purely a leisure activity to help get the kids motivated and in shape was turning into a serious hobby. After a year of working together, Shady saw serious potential in the group to continue training. “That’s exactly when I decided that I love what I’m doing, I love working with the youth, I love boxing. It’s fulfilling a part of me and that’s where I switched into coaching”.

At that point, Shady was alternating between training his group of youngsters at the YMCA and Grant Brothers. However, things changed when the Grants joined the Monster Gym facility. With three organizations now involved, things became a bit more complicated. Ultimately, a change needed to be made regarding the affiliation of Shady’s crew and so all parties agreed that the fairest way to settle the matter would be by asking the kids themselves. The group decided that they wanted to continue training with Shady, while still having access to both Monster Gym and YMCA. And that is exactly what they got with the opening of Ambition Boxing Club.

“Everybody was working together and they found me a little place where I can teach the kids and they were welcome to get some sparring at Grant’s and work out at the YMCA. Because they were a mix of both. Since everybody was on the same page, it made the success of this story. The fact that we all met around that common goal of catering for those special individuals. I’m not telling you that everybody had the potential to become fighters. But every one of their lives was changed because of boxing. I found a lot of pride in being that person that can be there for them in their lives.”

Shady knows what it takes to help young athletes succeed and prosper on a holistic level. And the single biggest factor, he says, is the ability to persevere through adversity and never give up.

“The people that I see that are successful, especially the ones that start at a young age, are the ones that have a vision and who never give up regardless of whatever comes their way. The best athletes I have are not the most talented, it’s the ones that never stop moving forward. So my advice is to stick to it. Don’t give up. You’re going to see that even if it feels like you’re not getting better, you are. You’re getting tougher. There’s a famous saying, ‘be persistent and you will get it, but be consistent and you will keep it’. I think a lot of people have a hard time with the second part because it took a lot of effort to get there but it takes, even more, to stay at that level and to stay hungry, even after winning. So consistency is key.”

Awadallah also believes that not giving up equally applies to coaches.

“Stick to your guy. Keep working on him. There is nothing more satisfying to a student than his coach never giving up on him. It’s the most important thing. Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done before the fight, but a lot of work is to be done the minute after the fight. Win or loss. You need to stick to your athlete. You need to believe in him no matter what. It’s not about the next new heavy bag drill or way to run. The mentality of your fighter – you believing in him and him knowing 100% that you believe in him, that’s going to take him further than anything else. The key is to stay with them, always providing them with something to do. We’re not looking at becoming champions tomorrow, we’re looking at becoming champions in the future. But not just champions in boxing, we’re talking about champions in life, in and out of the ring.”