Gloria Peek, the first female coach for a USA Olympic boxing team, appears right at home in the Dawg Pound as a dozen or so youngsters go through drills in the gym located just off Hartford Hwy. in Dothan.
At age 66, the New York native still gets a rush out of helping those of all ages aspire to be their best in the sport she fell in love with at a young age.
“The only thing that hinders me is that 20 years ago I could go, go, go and go. I have to rest a little more in between,” she said with a chuckle on Thursday afternoon.
Peek spent three days in Dothan last week sharing her knowledge with local boxers who regularly train under the watchful eye of Kevin Greene, the owner/trainer of the Dawg Pound.
“I think this is the best sport for saving kids,” Peek said. “If you look at these kids out here, they’re all sizes, they’re all different weights, they’re all different heights. Your top level sports such as basketball or football – those bigger sports – they require the athletes to be a certain size, or shape or condition to make it.
“In boxing, I can take the shortest, little dumpy kid who is a couch potato and I can transform them into a champ. I can take all kids – those who have been rejected by people or sports or whatever – and I can use boxing to turn their life around.”
Boxing has certainly been a life-changer for Peek, who first became interested in the sport while watching it on TV with her father.
“I fell in love with boxing when I was 8 years old,” Peek said. “I used to watch the old Gillette Friday Night Fights. I remember watching them and to me they (boxers) reminded me of gladiators. They were very sculpted, they were very powerful and very strong mentally.”
In an unusual comparison, Peek saw a common thread between boxers and male ballet performers after attending a performance at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
“I’ll never forget it because I remember sitting there and watching the male dancers and in my mind I was able to take the male boxers that I had seen and I was able to superimpose one onto the other and they fit perfectly,” Peek said. “Both were very sculpted, both were very powerful in their movement, both were rhythmic in their movement. The only difference was the final outcome. One was strictly combative and the other one was an art form that you could enjoy.”
While serving in the United States Navy, Peek began boxing for recreation.
“It wasn’t until I got out of the military that I actually did some boxing,” Peek said. “I boxed primarily with males. There were no females at the time that were doing it.
“I started officiating and then I realized that there was much more that I could do. I also realized at the time we were losing so many kids to the streets, and I knew I worked really well with kids. So I decided to use my love of boxing and my love of working with kids, and the only thing I could possibly do is become a coach.”
Peek ran a successful boxing club in Norfolk, Va., for many years – teaching male and female boxers of all ages. She was chosen as a coach for USA Boxing for the 2012 Olympics.
Fifteen years ago she met Greene during a boxing tournament and the two have remained close friends ever since. Greene is a 1984 graduate of Carroll High School who boxed and coached in the U.S. Army and has been involved with USA Boxing as a volunteer trainer since 2006.
“I watched how he worked with the athletes and was impressed by his knowledge and skill level,” Peek said of her first meeting with Greene. “When I was running my program out of Norfolk, Va., I would bring him in to help run training camps and clinics, and then I would come to his place, wherever he was, to run clinics. So we’ve been working with each other back and forth.
“The unfortunate thing is that we haven’t been close enough so that we could truly work together and have people see what two top-level coaches such as us could do in an area.”
Greene has been training boxers for more than 20 years and continues “looking for that diamond in the rough” among those he works with in Dothan.
“Boxing is a very hard sport,” Greene said. “It’s a hard sell here because this is football country. Most kids and parents don’t understand the dynamics of boxing.”
Chris Young is a 13-year-old from Dothan who now trains exclusively in boxing after splitting time between the sport and mixed martial arts last year. He works regularly with Greene and his father, Jason Young, but also picked up some helpful tips from Peek during her visit.
“I learned to use my slipping (punches) more – just bob your head and counter with it,” Chris said. “She told me I needed to take more angles and lateral movement.”
Lauren Barbee, a junior at Carroll High School, is a native of North Carolina now living in Ozark so she can train with Greene, who is her godfather.
Peek was the first female boxing coach Barbee has trained with.
“It was a different experience because they (Peek and Greene) see different things, but then again they see eye-to-eye on everything,” Barbee said. “She helped me with knowing that I need to progress with my jab.
“I always had coach Greene – that’s who I learned my skills from. They both are on the Olympic level and it’s always been a goal of mine to see myself as an Olympian in 2020.”
Peek said she doesn’t treat female boxers any different than males.
“People think you train a female differently than you do a male, but why would you?” Peek said. “A jab is a jab; a right hand is a right hand. What you need in order to win in there is the same for women as it is for men.
“You need the conditioning – 85 percent of boxing is training. The other 15 percent is your actual skill work. You also need the heart – be willing to lay it all on the line.”
Peek hopes to make more visits to Dothan in the future.
“I’m retired now, so my hope and goal is to get down here more often and to work with it a little bit more,” Peek said.