Boxing keeps life in focus

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

He freely admits he's tried to kill himself. He's also lived a transient, drug-addicted life in hotel rooms and on the street.

So climbing into the boxing ring tomorrow night, even at 37 years of age, doesn't exactly scare Roland Vandal.

"I'm not the best boxer in the world," Vandal was saying yesterday. "But it really keeps me out of trouble and keeps me focused. Sport does that for people, especially with addiction problems. You have to have a replacement."

Vandal is part of the fight card at The Gates on Roblin tomorrow night.

He has a pretty good idea where he'd be, though, if he didn't find something to replace the crack cocaine and booze that nearly ended his life that spring day, seven years ago.

Actually, it was a bottle of methadone that should have rung the bell on Vandal for good.

"I was trying to end my life," he said. "I just really couldn't pull it together. I had lost all control."

In and out of the Manitoba Youth Centre four times as a kid growing up in East Kildonan, Vandal's life really started to go downhill at 18, when his dad died.

"For me, alcohol or drugs weren't the problem, it was the solution to not being able to deal with life," he said. "It was a crutch. Things got tough, and you drink."

Eventually, he lost a house, a wife and a business, finding rock-bottom in that bottle of methadone and waking up on the bathroom floor of a hotel room.

Moment of clarity

"That day I had some moment of clarity," Vandal recalled. "I remembered all the teachers and the coaches and the principals, all those people who really gave a sh-- about me, and I wasn't hearing it at the time. But I heard it that day."

His mom, who hadn't heard from Vandal in months, took him to a hospital where he underwent chemical withdrawal.

That led to a trip to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, and step by step, Vandal got his life back.

The substance abuse under control, there was still one demon left to slay.

Vandal had been abused by a boxing coach when he was a kid. The son of a tough-as-nails iron worker, he'd kept that secret under lock and key for nearly two decades.

"I was damned if I was going to tell anybody that happened to me," Vandal said.

At an AFM meeting, he spilled it, and it was like someone took an anvil off his shoulders.

It didn't take long before he was back in the gym, and he's been going back ever since.

These days, the Pan Am Boxing Club is Vandal's second home. Teaching, not fighting, his first love.

And not just teaching kids how to throw combinations, either.

Vandal wants to help them with life.

So he goes wherever he can to tell his story, in dozens of speaking engagements each year (breakingthechain.ca).

He'll tell kids what gang life and booze and drugs did to him.

And hope they listen better than he did.

"It's kind of payback for all those things that people did for me."


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