A narrow entrance next to the Fernie Guides Hut and a long flight of stairs down reveals a boxing basement haven, run for the last two years by former rugby-player Mike Johnson.
Johnson is the president and coach of the Fernie Old School Boxing Club, a non-profit organization that tries to get people as involved in the sport as possible.
“It’s a good release if you’ve got some anger or frustrations from work. You can come down and beat up on a bag. That’s how I started,” said Johnson.
After playing rugby for over 30 years in his native U.K., Johnson moved to Fernie and bumped into the former owner of the space by pure chance.
“He just looked me up and down and asked if I box. The closest I had come was fights on the rugby field,” laughed Johnson.
Johnson said he’s now happy to work for himself and that working in the ring in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt is a welcoming change from his previous job as senior offshore investment private banker on the island Jersey off the shore of France.
“It was a high-pressure job,” explained Johnson who managed clients portfolios on a daily basis. “I was in a suit and tie for over 20 years. Now, I work for myself.”
Johnson explains that the club is a great way for him to meet all kinds of people in the city.
“We’ve got anywhere between 20-25 people coming down here and there’s generally a good mix between females and males,” he said.
A 12-year-old who can pack a mean punch also drops by the club.
“He’s mixing it up with the big guys which is great and it’s all good humoured,” said Johnson.
Johnson adds that a great draw to the sport is how affordable it is.
“You look at the cost of hockey gear or any contact sport and that’s a lot of money,” noted Johnson. “In boxing, it’s only $35 for decent gloves, $50 for decent headgear and you’re set.”
For the casual boxer, the boxing club does allow drop-ins to use their various boxing gloves and headgear.
Johnson adds with a laugh that when the Fernie Ghostriders drop by, the players tend to favour the pink gloves he carries.
Prior to actually letting fighters punch it out on a bag, Johnson runs them through a half hour of circuit training as a warm up.
He admits that in the summer business isn’t as solid as locals tend to prefer being outside to being in his basement, but hopes all the same he can get locals to test their hand at boxing year round.
“It’s $5 for a drop-in or $35 a month and we have a lot of fun down here. We sweat it out and it’s really good,” he said.
The boxing club also caters to women who may have an interest in the sport, featuring a ladies-only night on Mondays.
“For a lot of girls I think they may be curious about the sport but are nervous to try it or don’t want to look foolish, so I really encourage them to try it out on our ladies-night first, then if they really want to, drop by our mix nights.”
All in all, Johnson is happy to be throwing his weight into Fernie’s business sector and is glad that his son has a chance to grow up here.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Johnson, adding, “and what a place for a six-year-old boy to grow up in. The entire city and mountain is his playground.”