When You’re on the Ropes

The rhythm of the speed bags, the precise breathing of the fighters, and punches of the bag are the symphony that has filled Kennith Rooks since he was 16. He opens the door to the old gym with a smile and his granddaughter follows closely behind. Instantly he greets me with a big hug and says, “There she is! The Champion herself!” A television in the Gym above the ring is constantly showing fights from all the great fighters like Ali, Frazer, Pacquiao, Tyson, Holyfield, Jack Johnson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Foreman, Mayweather etc. I looked up at the television and pointed out that those guys were the champions. He laughed and said, “My money would be on you any day, Ms. Kat.”


Born on the wrong side of the tracks, Kennith Rooks hasn’t always entered the gym with a smile on his face. When he first started boxing his main goal was to beat up everybody. Kids made fun of him and he was angry. The kids on the football team would bully him if he blew a play or in school when he made a bad grade. The gym soon became his safe haven and home. While he retold his childhood in the sweaty gym his eyes glazed over as he recalled, “That anger and that bitterness was deep in me and I really just wanted to beat everyone up in town.” Then he laughed and smiled, “Now here I am a preacher and I don’t think I am angry with anyone, at least not right now.”

This radical transition began with boxing and his faith in God. He said it provided him with a sense of self-worth, discipline, and respect which were foreign concepts beforehand. He looked out into the gym and saw the young men training out on the floor, “I know some of those guys out there are fighting for something.” One of Kennith’s favorite quotes is from the Rocky movie, “Life is going to knock you down.” He said that this is true no matter what, but Boxing taught him how to get back up and prepare to go back in the ring.

When he first started training he would fight anybody, inside or outside of the gym. But slowly he began to develop respect for himself and the sport. After countless hours in the gym, he won the national championship in kickboxing, twice. However, that wasn’t his hardest fight.

“In 1989 I was diagnosed with cancer and what I had was something nobody could cure.” He related his rounds of chemo treatments to rounds in a fight. He would line up his shots and take them one at a time. To him, boxing prepared him to face the adversity found in life and the courage to beat cancer. “in my mind I was always fighting those rounds.” He looked over at his granddaughter and smiled, “but here I am. Now come on, girl! it’s time for you to get in the ring!” We went out onto the floor and he laughed, “Okay come on, beat the tar out of me!”


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