As long as he can hold his hands up

Boxing coach and former champion boxer on the wisdom of the brutal sport

Dave Gaudette
Photo by John Papaioannou

If you look west from Foothills Parkway at just the right moment you’ll notice a building that looks like an oversized irrigation pipe made of concrete. Tucked into an unassuming block on Pearl Parkway — you wouldn’t know unless you investigated — is Front Range Boxing Academy. The out-of-the-way location and rugged appearance create a mystique that blends with a charming grittiness upon entering. It’s easy to imagine late-night sparring followed by jubilant shoulder pats and sparkly eyed reminiscing. And Dave Gaudette, owner and former boxing champion, has much to reminisce about — his segue from priesthood to boxer, the road to opening his own facility and the life lessons he’s learned in the boxing world and now imparts to his students.

“A seasoned boxer would rather break bones than throw in the towel,” says Gaudette, who is still fighting fit and gives the impish smile seen in old newspaper clippings from his professional matches. “In moments, I think I would rather die than quit. As long as I can hold my hands up, as long as I am conscious — that is the job as a fighter. It is a sport of endurance.”

He earned the New Hampshire Amateur Light Weight Championship title in 1969, and was the Southern New England Amateur Athletic Union Junior Welterweight Champion in 1971.

Given the brutality of the sport, he has an unexpected outlook on what it means to be tough.

“In boxing you don’t have to be mean to be tough — in fact, a lot of mean guys aren’t tough, and a lot of tough guys aren’t mean,” he says. “Most mean guys are mean because they have insecurities. When people posture before games — screaming obscenities — that’s their way of dealing with fear. It’s nervousness. For the most part, I have met the nicest people I know through boxing. You get acquainted with how to deal with your demons.”

Gaudette came to boxing after making the decision to leave his religious high school, where he was studying to become a priest. It was under the tutelage of the Petronelli brothers, famed boxing managers and trainers, that he discovered his passion for the sport. He began training unbeknownst to his parents, who never quite got on board with his newfound love and despised their teenage son turning up to dinner with black eyes.

For someone tending toward the cerebral — hence the initial draw to religious studies — boxing offered a stark physical reality.

“Boxing forces you to be in the moment. When your heart is pounding and your lungs are pumping, you’re in shape, but it’s still painful to some extent,” Gaudette says. “It puts you in touch with your body, which is especially important in a culture where we tend to be disconnected from our bodies. If you get whacked a good shot, your knees buckle, you know you’re in the world, that you are a physical being and that you’re not on cloud nine. Although, in a way, you feel like it if you get hit hard enough. Overall, it helped me to be present.”

Gaudette in 1970 at the Petronelli brothers’ gym in Massachusetts. | Photo courtesy of Dave Gaudette

Most nights, Lou Rubino, Gaudette’s long-time friend, can be found leaning against a boxing ring at Front Range Boxing, watching training groups of young fighters, many of whom go on to compete in Denver and nationally. The business model aims to create an inclusive atmosphere for both professional athletes and those seeking physical fitness and the character growth that comes with a discipline. He describes Gaudette as a man of integrity with a gentle personality.

“You wouldn’t expect to have a discussion about Hegel or Marx, or any other great philosopher, while sparring, but you can expect that with Dave,” says Rubino. “He is an example of free enterprise at its best, having opened [the boxing gym] all by himself without a trust or family money. He realized that dream — which amazes me because it takes a rare combination of bravery and earnest.”

Gaudette earned his master’s in comparative East/West philosophy at the University of Colorado and has taught in other capacities as an elementary teacher and as a sports conditioning coach at CU.

To this day, Gaudette is enamored by the world of boxing and its rich lessons. His eyes blaze as he shadowboxes the air, an obvious habituation.

Pawing through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, Gaudette lingers on a black and white shot of a match. At a slighter 132 pounds, Gaudette is caught frozen, fists in the air, surrounded by young enthused spectators and bowler cap-clad managers looking to make a deal. He remains sanguine about his personal trials throughout his competitive fighting career and the gritty glamour of the boxing world. Undoubtedly, he says, excelling in the sport has been the most significant thing he has done with his life outside of family.

“There is a beauty in human resilience, in being able to hang in there, and at the end of a fight, giving your opponent a hug and saying, ‘Yeah, man, I couldn’t get past your jab. Great job,’” Gaudette says. “Boxing has given me a true sense of camaraderie.”