Chauncy Welliver is Hillyard’s goodwill ambassador to the world.
The local heavyweight boxer fought in rings around the world and sparred with some of the biggest names in the sport, and he’s taken his hometown nickname with him.
After 71 professional fights, the boxer known as the Hillyard Hammer returned to Spokane and opened a gym in 2013. In May, he moved BoxFit from the North Division hill to Hillyard.
He’s taking a chance on Hillyard by following his heart, he insists. The gym was making money at its former location, but he has no expectation that his former clientele would follow him to its new home.
It comes down to this, he and his wife, Sarah, insist.
On North Division, they could make a living; in moving to Hillyard, they hope to make a difference.
In the building at Market Street and Diamond Avenue, Welliver is back where he grew up.
“You see that stop sign over there?” he asks, looking out the window. “That’s where we used to hang out. We’d wait for guys to come stumbling out of the taverns and ask them if they wanted to fight.”
The landscape has changed since the old days and some of those bars are long gone.
But it’s still home.
The Wellivers live a short walk from the gym and their daughter, Lemyn, is in day care just across the street.
When Welliver retired from the ring, he and his wife opened BoxFit, a boxing-oriented gym located near the foot of the North Division hill.
“When we opened, we weren’t thinking about starting a youth boxing program at all,” Welliver said. “We wanted to attract women who wanted to come in and get in shape.”
Business was good.
And then aspiring boxers began to seek the gym out. One in particular helped change the gym’s image.
Pat Ferguson sought out Welliver, looking to take up boxing. Twenty months later, he won the USA Boxing National Championship.
Now embarking on a professional career, Ferguson is a fixture, training for upcoming bouts and helping around the gym.
The new digs, a former ballroom, are elegant. Hardwood floors and chandeliers aren’t what you normally find in a boxing gym, but they are integral to Hillyard Hammer BoxFit – for now.
“We’ll eventually move downstairs,” Welliver said. “But we’re excited about what we can do here. We’re going to hold boxing events in here. I think we can fit some people in here and we can put on fights in here.”
But the gym is about finding youngsters for a youth program – giving them a foundation for the future.
“It’s not just about teaching kids to box,” Welliver insists. “Look, I tell the kids that they have to be all-in on this thing. If they’re going to be part of this, I want to see their report cards. I want them to friend me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram so I can see what they’re up to, and if they’re doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing, they’re either going to stop it or they’re gone.”
It’s tough love, Welliver style. Kids will not only box, they’ll do community service projects.
“I don’t care if they ever win a boxing match,” he insists. “I want them to learn how to be good people.”
The boxing part is a little more important than Welliver lets on – when you fight your way out of Hillyard, winning is important. But the coach wants it to be in perspective.
“I like to tell the kids about where boxing was able to take me,” he said. “The other day I was telling them about what it was like to fly to Germany to spar with a heavyweight champion.”
There are more stories. And more chances to motivate.
“Yeah, I haven’t even told them about New Zealand,” Welliver laughed.
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