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More Than a Boxing Trainer: The Life and Times of Freddie Roach Part II

Tuesday December 19, 2006

“I have a great life, and I just want to be remembered as a good guy.” -- Freddie Roach
Brad Cooney

December 18, 2006(Ringside Report) - RSR continues with the candid conversation with one of boxing greatest trainers, Freddie Roach. In Part ll of this interview, he talks about his life, and how he is dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, and how it all began. Roach touches on what it is about boxing that he loves so much, and why he wants to be in the sport for a long time coming. The interview wouldn’t be complete without Freddie talking about his pride and joy, Filipinio Superstar, Manny Pacquiao, and what the future may bring for him. You will also find out what this great trainer does outside of the boxing ring, and how the sport that he loves has sometimes stood in the way of romance.

BC: Where were you when you first started feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

It was 2 years after I retired, I was doing some road work with Virgil Hill up in Carson City. Virgil and I were running along a horse trail, and there were some horses that were trailing behind us. I turned to look at one of the horses and I hit a hole, and broke my ankle. When I came out of the cast, I noticed that I couldn’t stretch my heel. Shortly after that, the tremors started.

I remember I was dating a girl named “Lisa,” and she asked me one time “Are you saying no or are you shaking again?” I didn’t even realize that I was shaking that bad, and I said “What are you talking about?” I ended up going to the Neural clinic in Phoenix, and then they referred me to The University of British Columbia. When I got there, they did a bunch of tests, and they diagnosed me with Parkinson’s. The doctors told me it was due to trauma, but even without boxing, I still could have ended up with it. The doctors say it’s from boxing, but they can’t pinpoint that. They put me on medication, and I still take medication 3 times a day for it. There are some surgeries out there that they are talking about, but the thing is that I don’t want to let them operate on my head, because you never know what can happen.

I am not so bad that I can’t live with this. I limp a little bit on my left side. I have slight tremors, and my neck gets really tight at times. My neck tends to go up to the direction where I am looking, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s more embarrassing than anything because people see me shaking, and when I miss a step when I am walking. I used to get mad at that, but it’s just people’s nature to look, so I don’t worry about that. The thing is, I can still box all day, I can do the mitts for 50 rounds a day if I need to. I am not going to let them operate on me right now. Some doctors say it’s going to get worse, and some don’t. Some doctors say that if I go under a certain cell point, and my body doesn’t produce the amount of cells that it needs, and if the medications start to not work like they should, that I will have problems later on in life. The thing is that I have a good life. I love what I do, and not too many people in this world can say that these days.

BC: Is it fair to say that you aren’t asking anyone for any sympathy about this?

I love life. I chose boxing and we all make choices in life. This is my choice, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am doing a lot better than many of the people that I went to school with. The thing is, that I am not going lay over and die. I am a fighter, and I am going to get up and fight on.

BC: What is it about the sport of boxing that you love so much?

I like to help people, and bring out the best in my fighters. It’s a gratifying thing to get them to achieve their goals to be world champions. To me, that’s the greatest high in the world. To get Manny Pacquiao so sharp that he just demolishes a World Champion in Erik Morales the way he did, I was so happy. I just raised my arms after the fight...I was so happy. That’s why I do this, (for) moments like that. Obviously Manny is a great fighter, with or without me, but I am so happy to be part of his life. Manny listens like no other, and we had a game-plan that he worked perfectly. I told him that when Erik throws that right hand at you, just step away, and counter over the top, and it was picture perfect...just how we drew it up on the drawing board. It’s a beautiful thing to me when my fighters perfect their game.

BC: What are some things that you like to do outside of the ring?

Well I like girls (laughs). The thing is that I can’t find a girl that will take a second seat to boxing though...they all get mad at me. I was dating Sheila Hudson, the world record holder in the triple jump. We got along great, but I chose to go to boxing matches instead of going to her track events. I am a simple person and I love the game of boxing. I go home at the end of the day, and I get some rest, and start over. I do like to catch a movie, and a good meal somewhere. At this point in my life I still like to play a pick up basketball game, or softball. I sponsor a few softball teams. I watch a little television, get some rest, and go back to the gym. I don’t like to miss anything in the gym. I watch opponents tapes, and I just don’t like to miss anything. I would like to get married one day and have a family. I have to learn to settle down a little bit, and spend some quality time on that side of things. I just have a hard time telling people no. I am spreading myself a little bit thin now, so I have to make sure that I spend equal time with my fighters.

BC: When you finally leave this sport, how do you want people to remember you?

I want to be remembered that I am a fair person. I will stand up for my fighters, and I won’t let people rip them off. I am an easy going guy, and I like people. I have a great life, and I just want to be remembered as a good guy. When you respect people, you get it back, and it’s a lot easier in life that way.

BC: Where were you when you first started feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

It was 2 years after I retired, I was doing some road work with Virgil Hill up in Carson City. Virgil and I were running along a horse trail, and there were some horses that were trailing behind us. I turned to look at one of the horses and I hit a hole, and broke my ankle. When I came out of the cast, I noticed that I couldn’t stretch my heel. Shortly after that, the tremors started. I remember I was dating a girl named “Lisa,” and she asked me one time “Are you saying no or are you shaking again?” I didn’t even realize that I was shaking that bad, and I said “What are you talking about?” I ended up going to the Neural clinic in Phoenix, and then they referred me to The University of British Columbia. When I got there, they did a bunch of tests, and they diagnosed me with Parkinson’s.

The doctors told me it was due to trauma, but even without boxing, I still could have ended up with it. The doctors say it’s from boxing, but they can’t pinpoint that. They put me on medication, and I still take medication 3 times a day for it. There are some surgeries out there that they are talking about, but the thing is that I don’t want to let them operate on my head, because you never know what can happen.

I am not so bad that I can’t live with this. I limp a little bit on my left side. I have slight tremors, and my neck gets really tight at times. My neck tends to go up to the direction where I am looking, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s more embarrassing than anything because people see me shaking, and when I miss a step when I am walking. I used to get mad at that, but it’s just people’s nature to look, so I don’t worry about that.

The thing is, I can still box all day, I can do the mitts for 50 rounds a day if I need to. I am not going to let them operate on me right now. Some doctors say it’s going to get worse, and some don’t. Some doctors say that if I go under a certain cell point, and my body doesn’t produce the amount of cells that it needs, and if the medications start to not work like they should, that I will have problems later on in life. The thing is that I have a good life. I love what I do, and not too many people in this world can say that these days.

BC: Is it fair to say that you aren’t asking anyone for any sympathy about this?

I love life. I chose boxing and we all make choices in life. This is my choice, and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am doing a lot better than many of the people that I went to school with. The thing is, that I am not going lay over and die. I am a fighter, and I am going to get up and fight on.

BC: What is it about the sport of boxing that you love so much?

I like to help people, and bring out the best in my fighters. It’s a gratifying thing to get them to achieve their goals to be world champions. To me, that’s the greatest high in the world. To get Manny Pacquiao so sharp that he just demolishes a World Champion in Erik Morales the way he did, I was so happy. I just raised my arms after the fight...I was so happy. That’s why I do this, (for) moments like that. Obviously Manny is a great fighter, with or without me, but I am so happy to be part of his life. Manny listens like no other, and we had a game-plan that he worked perfectly. I told him that when Erik throws that right hand at you, just step away, and counter over the top, and it was picture perfect...just how we drew it up on the drawing board. It’s a beautiful thing to me when my fighters perfect their game.

BC: What are some things that you like to do outside of the ring?

Well I like girls (laughs). The thing is that I can’t find a girl that will take a second seat to boxing though...they all get mad at me. I was dating Sheila Hudson, the world record holder in the triple jump. We got along great, but I chose to go to boxing matches instead of going to her track events. I am a simple person and I love the game of boxing. I go home at the end of the day, and I get some rest, and start over. I do like to catch a movie, and a good meal somewhere. At this point in my life I still like to play a pick up basketball game, or softball. I sponsor a few softball teams. I watch a little television, get some rest, and go back to the gym. I don’t like to miss anything in the gym. I watch opponents tapes, and I just don’t like to miss anything.

I would like to get married one day and have a family. I have to learn to settle down a little bit, and spend some quality time on that side of things. I just have a hard time telling people no. I am spreading myself a little bit thin now, so I have to make sure that I spend equal time with my fighters.

BC: When you finally leave this sport, how do you want people to remember you?

I want to be remembered that I am a fair person. I will stand up for my fighters, and I won’t let people rip them off. I am an easy going guy, and I like people. I have a great life, and I just want to be remembered as a good guy. When you respect people, you get it back, and it’s a lot easier in life that way.