Smelters trip to Havana’s oldest boxing gym The Rafael Trejo Gymnasio.
Said coach Garry Cave “We wanted to reward the NSC boxers for all the hard work and dedication they’d put in so we decided to take them on a trip of a lifetime. The Cubans are without doubt No 1 when it comes to amateur boxing, winning bags of medals in the Olympics, so the destination was obvious. The club paid half the cost of the trip by raising money from their Manor Farm FC and Avonmouth Rugby Club boxing shows plus we had many generous sponsorship donations. A real big thank you to everybody that made this happen, as without your very generous support we couldn't have done it.
In the party was Garry Cave Team Manager, John Mathews Vice Club Chairman, Jeff ‘The Frogman’ Sharp Coach, Tom Cave Boxer, Tom Edwards Boxer, Smokin Joe Burns Boxer, Sam Mogg boxer/coach, Andy ‘The Bambino’ Mogg boxer, Billy ‘The Gollum’ Davis boxer? Reece ‘The Ratboy’ Godfrey boxer and Dalton ‘The Pineapple Kid’ Saunders boxer. We stayed at Havana’s oldest hotel The Inglaterra Hotel famed for Ernest Hemmingway and it’s old world charm. The trip was organised through specialist boxing travel agents Cityboxer.
Flying from Gatwick after an early pick up from Avonmouth Rugby Club on Wednesday the 29th of November at 4:30am and after 24 hours of travel we arrived safely, if not a little jaded. Training began brightly and early the next day at 8am in the gym under guidance from Head Cuban Coach Pedro Massiano. The Smelters where warmly welcomed by all the Cuban coaching staff and boxers. The language barrier was the first issue but thankfully one of the Smelters junior boxers Tommy Edwards spoke some Spanish so this made things a lot easier for the Bristolian boxers and the Cuban coaches.
We trained everyday in the gym at 8am till 10am for 6 days. The training centred on the footwork techniques that the Cuban boxers are renowned for. After a few of days of practice, some friendly gym bouts where arranged between the NSC and The Trejo Boxing Club. Said coach Cave “We really thought that the Smelters lads would get a boxing lesson from their Cuban counterparts, but to be fair to the Cubans, they matched our boxers up fairly and surprisingly to us and mostly the Cubans, the NSC boxers more than held their own and in some of the ‘bouts’ had the upper hand.
The Cuban coaches praised our boxers for their skilfulness and toughness. The day was topped off with a team trip to the Santa Marie beach. The whole party where stunned by the beauty of the beach, it was like being in a paradise picture postcard. Sunday we watched a junior championship of some 42 bouts where many national champions competed.
The poverty in Cuba was very evident and our boxers eyes where opened to just how lucky they really are, as many of the Cuban boxers didn’t even have training shoes, some where boxing in slip on shoes! We took lots of gum shields and hand wraps to give out in the gym and they where very greatly received. They showed us the tyre and sledgehammer strength training they’re famed for, which is basically hitting an old truck tyre with a large sledgehammer and in return we showed them a few tricks with the skipping rope. The Cuban people where lovely, very welcoming and always willing to chat.
It wasn’t all boxing we also went on some site seeing tours and took in the Capitalio building, which houses the Cuban National Arts Museum. This is an exact full size replica of the White House building in Washington. We used it’s many steps in the evening for some extra training much to the amusement of the locals as well as taking on them on at football in the nearby park. Across the road is the Kid Chocolate Sports Arena named after Cuba's first world champion .The Kid Chocolate hosts many sports and on our visit we where lucky to get a game of football against a local school class that we’re using it for their PE lesson. Fidel Castro also obliged by having his 80th birthday celebrations, so Havana was buzzing all weekend, there was the obligatory military parade in Revolution Square on Sunday, and we’d never seen so many people in uniform!
I was very proud of how they boxed and conducted themselves during the whole of the trip. It was so successful and rewarding that we’re planning to go again in 2009, taking even more NSC boxers and boxing the Trejo club in a real tournament.