'You can't eat T-shirts'

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

It's a long way from Oscar De La Hoya's training camp in Las Vegas to Top Meat Wholesale in northeast Edmonton.

And while pounding sides of beef might have helped transform Rocky Balboa's fistic prowess into the stuff of legend, Adam Trupish, Canada's hardest-working amateur boxer, knows that can only happen in Hollywood.

A few years back, Trupish accepted an invitation from De La Hoya to help the once and future Golden Boy prepare to battle Arturo Gatti.

He later worked with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Eric Lucas and, most recently, former IBF super bantamweight champ Steve Molitor.

GLORY DAYS

Those were the glory days -- living and sparring with world champions and Top 10 contenders, mingling with boxing's elite and getting an up-close-and-personal peek at the rewards of professionalism.

It was fun, but Trupish was cut from a different cloth. He revelled in the honour of the amateur game and in fighting for his country.

Still does, in fact. But the novelty is wearing thinner.

These days, Trupish rolls out of bed at 5 a.m. and runs six miles through the pitch-black streets. He then runs to his job at Top Meat Wholesale on 111 Ave.

After butchering beef and pork for eight hours, he runs to the Beverly Bronx Gym, where he helps pros Sheldon Hinton, Omar Valdez and Jason Delaronde mentor a growing posse of some of the city's most dedicated young fighters.

The hectic schedule doesn't allow the nine-time national champ and two-time Olympian much downtime, but he's not complaining. At least not about choosing to put his craft above such creature comforts as, say, regular sleep ... and maybe some wheels.

"Yeah, a car would be nice, that's for sure," chuckles Trupish, who was Canada's lone fighter at last summer's Beijing Olympics.

"I've gotten used to running everywhere - even though it sometimes feels like I'm trapped in Rocky IV when I'm picking my way through the slush and snow.

"But I don't think I'll start beating on slabs of beef at work. My hands couldn't take it."

Trupish, who has to pay his own way to Trois-Rivieres, Que., this week to defend his national 152-pound title, isn't looking for sympathy or handouts.

All he wants is an even break - and a chance to turn pro.

"It's been a great ride, but I'm not getting any younger.," says Trupish. "I'm turning 30 in a few weeks, and that's too old to be a starving artist.

"For the past 16 years I've given everything I had to amateur boxing ... to be the best that I could be, to fight in two Olympics and proudly represent my country all over the world - but for what?

"All I've got to show for it is a mountain of debts, a nice gold ring from the Alberta government ... and a closet full of red T-shirts. Well, you can't eat T-shirts.

"After Trois-Rivieres, I'll compete at the national box-offs at West Edmonton Mall next month and then call it a day. I want to turn pro and see where that takes me, but I'm on borrowed time.

"At most, I've got two, maybe three years of fighting left. I gave a lot of blood and sweat to this sport on behalf of my country, but in the end, that wasn't even enough to get my airfare paid to the nationals."

With an amateur record of 169-24, Trupish has earned the right to vent.

Ranked No. 5 in the world at light middleweight going to Beijing, at the last minute he was told that he couldn't take his trainer or cutman to the Games.

MAGNIFIED

The fact he was Canada's lone Olympic fighter only magnified the absurdity of that bureaucratic idiocy - especially when he had to borrow a cornerman from the Irish team.

"I was our country's entire Olympic boxing team in Beijing," Trupish says wistfully.

"At the next Olympics, in London, we might not have anybody. It's not looking good.

"In Canada, amateur boxing is treated like a hobby; the only ones who take it seriously are the fighters.

"There's a lot of lip service about how they're building for the future, but that's a joke."

As a carded national team athlete, Trupish receives about $1,500 a month in federal funding. With that, he's expected to pay all his living and training expenses, as well as a good chunk of his travel costs.

"You can't do it," he says simply. "Maybe if I lived in a tent and only ate soup and sandwiches. But once you pay for rent, utilities, food, clothes ... there's not a lot left over.

"I've been very fortunate to have great sponsors to help offset some of my expenses, but I still have to hustle all the time to make ends meet.

"I was so grateful to land the job at Top Meat, and my boss there has been really good, very supportive of my boxing.

"It's tough for most nationally carded athletes to find work because potential employers naturally assume we have weird schedules and that we need time off for training and competitions.

"That's true. But on the other hand, unless you're a figure skater or a skier or in some other high-profile sport, the government allowance isn't enough to let you live. You end up having to hustle up a job with an understanding boss."

NO ILLUSIONS

Trupish has no illusions that his situation will improve dramatically once he turns pro - but at least the pressure will be off.

"People look at the fact I lost my fight in Beijing (to eventual gold medallist Bakhyt Sarsekbayev of Kazakhstan) and they say, 'Well, who did you ever beat?'

"The short answer is that I've beat a lot of the best guys in my weight class, and the guys I've lost to are some of the best fighters in the world.

"I haven't lost to a Canadian fighter since 2002, and that was against Jean Pascal, who's now 24-1 as a pro and just lost a WBC super middleweight title fight.

"I haven't lost in Canada since 2004, and that was to a Mexican Olympian.

"I've got KO wins over (Canadian super welterweight champ) Gareth Sutherland and (Edmonton's) Kris Andrews, who's the No. 1 contender.

"When I turn pro, I won't have to be coddled - nor would I want to be. I could win the Canadian title right away, then, hopefully, go after some of the established pros I fought in the amateurs."

No matter what, he'll always have coaching to fall back on.

"I always tell kids to follow their dreams, because if you do that, you'll have no regrets," says Trupish.

"My dream was to be a fighter and to represent Canada at the Olympics.

"But you know, if I had put the same time and determination into becoming a doctor or a lawyer, maybe today I wouldn't be maxing out my credit card just to defend my title.

"This has been my full-time job for 16 years, and, to be honest, I thought I'd have more to show for it than a closet full of T-shirts. But it was my dream, my choice and I've got no regrets.

"All I can do is keep punching."


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