“I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to do it all over again. I would travel the same route, choose the same course,” says national boxing coach Gary Bowen who recently retired from the National Sports Council after 25-years.
Many of Barbados’ outstanding boxers including Olympians Marcus Thomas, Christopher ‘Shaka’ Henry, John Kellman, Shawn Terry Cox have all passed through the tutelage of coach Bowen.
During an interview with Barbados TODAY, Bowen said his greatest joy as a coach was to train boxers who went on to represent Barbados and brought success to the island.
“To see the Trident raised brought tears to my eyes because on more than one occasion, the flag was held aloft. We had success at two Commonwealth Games, we had success at Pan American Games and these were all medals. We also won medals at CAC Games and the World Military Games. All these are boxers I prepared,” Bowen recalled fondly.
Bowen is the only coach in the island to have trained Barbadian boxers for three consecutive Olympic Games.
It all started in 1992 with Marcus Thomas and Christopher ‘Shaka’ Henry at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Thomas featured again at the 1996 Olympics for Barbados along with John Kellman, this time at the Atlanta Olympic Games. And to top it off Shawn Terry Cox represented Barbados in 2000 at the Sydney Summer Olympics.
In 2006 Bowen also became the first coach in Barbados to win the Caribbean championship when the team competed in Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the most established boxing coaches in the Caribbean, Bowen, holds a level three International Boxing Association (AIBA) coaching certificate which is the highest a coach can get in boxing.
He did courses in Germany where he spent five months at Neipzig. Also, three months at the University of Hungary doing an international coaching course.
In addition to working for many years as a national boxing coach, Bowen also trained Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme boxers.
Bowen also worked at the National Sports Council for over two decades as a boxing coach and said he never missed a single day of work. While employed at the NSC, Bowen was responsible for the schools boxing program and described it as the best part of his coaching.
The Breedy brothers Cobia and Jabali, Junior Greenidge, Anderson Emmanuel just to name a few were trained by Bowen in the schools’ program.
“I really did enjoy working with a lot of young kids I came across. Even today when I go on the road, I hear someone shouting ‘coach, coach’. It makes me feel good because along the way I might have said something meaningful to them. Or they did enjoy the boxing that I tried to pass on. So, there is always a joy when they call and that makes me feel good,” he said.
While there were great highs, there were also low moments as Barbadian boxers started to feature in fewer competitions. Bowen highlighted the fact that times have changed so much that to travel and compete you must qualify for tournaments.
“Although we are still qualifying, it is still harder for us because we are not getting the type of regular competition which would take us to that level. We still bring success. But it is now harder. And it is not the association’s fault or anyone’s fault. It is just how it is right now,” he explained.
Bowen who is a member of the Barbados Boxing Association (BBA) revealed that the local governing body has some individuals with bright ideas and everyone has a part to play. He noted that one of the great things BBA continues to do is send boxers to training camps overseas before a major competition.
The national coach wants to see more individuals, especially females, get involved in boxing. He said however that the perception of boxing being a dangerous sport is not necessarily the case.
“Safety is a priority in boxing. There are rules and regulations that must be followed in order to make the sport remain a safe sport.
“Elite boxing is safety first. Everything is in the hands of the referees and they would have received lots of training and are always up to date with regards to the rules for safety. But parents don’t want to believe and that is why we don’t have as many boxers as we did many years ago,” he noted.
Interestingly, boxing was not Bowen’s first love or favourite sport. Like any true West Indian, he grew up in his native Guyana with a love for cricket. But as fate would have it Bowen turned to boxing after getting into an accident many years ago and almost lost two of his fingers.
It is a chapter of his life that he has no regrets about because he had the support of his wife Joyce Bowen who did not like the idea of him boxing but supported his venture as a coach.
They became a boxing family as his wife Joyce became an executive member of the BBA having served as president and also was an executive member on the AIBA board.
One of the great names in local boxing, the late Lionel Hall also saw potential in Bowen many years ago and encouraged him to get involved. There were many others along the way who also showed confidence in Bowen and made him who he is today. He thanked the Barbados Olympic Association, the National Sports Council, the Barbados Boxing Association, the Barbados Defence Force and his wife.
One thing Bowen would like to see for local boxing is for the coaches to come together and operate on the same page. He took time to encourage young upcoming boxers to never let people think less of them than what they thought of themselves
As to his plans now that he is retired, Bowen said: “I am still a member of the boxing association, I am still the national coach. So, as soon as COVID allows us to resume I will be right there starting all over again because I have seen coaches older than me do it.”