WITH the rapid-fire popping of a speed bag the dominating sound at the Columbus PAL Boxing gym, young amateurs were practicing their technique.
It was going pretty well, too, most of the time. There would be a mishap or two. It would get quiet for a moment, and then the popping would begin again.
The group of 10- to 15-year-old athletes was performing pretty well.
Then 21-year-old super-heavyweight Alex Stillabower stepped to the bag.
In Columbus, people take notice when Stillabower performs, even in practice. The collective group of heads all turned as Stillabower worked through a flawless three minutes.
A piercing bell brought Stillabower’s work to a close, and the young boxers sighed. Oh, to be that good.
Perhaps they need what Stillabower has used since he was 11. It’s called drive and determination.
“I wake up every day and start training,” Stillabower said. “There are times where I just don’t know if I can do it, but when I get going and put the gloves on, I forget even thinking about that.”
People notice. On Saturday and Sunday, Stillabower will be competing at the Indiana Convention Center as part of the Indiana Black Expo Midwest Invitational Boxing Showcase, pitting him, as a member of Team Indiana, against top amateur boxers from Ohio.
“This is my first time going to it, so I have no clue what to expect,” Stillabower said. “It’s always exciting to get in the ring against people you’ve never fought, and Ohio always brings out some real good fighters.”
Columbus PAL Boxing head coach Ron Thompson, who has coached for more than 30 years, has witnessed Stillabower’s growth since Day 1. Thompson said Stillabower caught him by surprise.
“He used to be a short, chubby little kid,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think that he would last a week. But when I saw how passionate he was for the sport, I knew we were getting someone special in here.”
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 245 pounds, Stillabower has hit a growth spurt.
“I just hit the weight room as much as possible,” Stillabower said. “I wake up and run every morning, do a weights workout later in the day, go to work, then hit the gym.”
“It all seems routine to me,” he said.
Thompson hopes that Stillabower’s drive can potentially land him into the professional circuit.
“He has just grown into a thick heavyweight boxer,” Thompson said. “He tries to get into as many tournaments as he can, has fought in some Golden Gloves tournaments and has the drive to succeed.”
Earlier in March, Stillabower competed in the Indiana Golden Gloves Championships in the Super Heavyweight division, losing in a 4-1 decision to Dane Ashley.
“It left a sour taste in my mouth,” Stillabower said. “It’s always tough to lose a fight, but you know exactly what you need to do to get better, whether it is the cardio, speed or power.”
His work ethic and success have earned him the respect of those who train at the PAL gym, such as 12-year-old Tristen Grant. Grant fights in the 70-pound division and has been a member of Columbus PAL Boxing for a little over a year. He said he hopes to be as good as Stillabower one day.
“He’s so good at what he does,” Grant said. “He’s a big guy and is a hard worker that all of us look up to.”
“The younger guys find a lot of inspiration from him,” Thompson said. “There are kids here that look like mirror images of how he looked when he was their age. If they are driven like he is, they will grow to be a high-caliber fighter like him.”
While the tournament is just days away, Stillabower has much to work on.
“I have to improve my stamina,” Stillabower said. “I have to get my weight down and feel a little better before Saturday. Once I focus on those little things, I’ll be ready to fight.”
In terms of advice for younger boxers, Stillabower said to simply keep at it.
“This isn’t easy,” Stillabower said. “There will be times where you will feel like you can’t do it anymore, but when you get that first win under your belt, you’ll just want to keep doing it.”