For Gordy Racette, getting back in the boxing ring after 15 years is like something out of The Twilight Zone.
There’s an episode of the old TV show, recalled Racette, where a young boy is compelled to read to his great-great-great-grandfather every night, and as long as the boy never finishes a story, the old man stays alive and awaits the ending.
“So this family, through generations, kept reading him stories. He couldn’t die until he got to the end,” said Racette. “And that’s kind of like me. I set goals five, 10 years down the road. It keeps you motivated to keep going.”
Nanaimo’s Racette (39-6) is fighting Kelowna’s Sandy Pembroke (3-7) as part of the Rumble at the Rink boxing card this Saturday (May 23) at Frank Crane Arena. It will be an historic bout – only two other pugilists have fought in five different decades, and no Canadian has performed the feat.
“In 2000, when I had my fourth-decade fight, I went, ‘Ha ha, four decades, I wonder if I can make it five?’ So the seed was planted,” Racette said.
Once he identifies a goal, he said, he can’t quit, and has to “go for the gusto.” Even if someone tells him he can’t do it.
“[They say], ‘You’re too old; you shouldn’t be fighting,’ Why? Well, maybe because they don’t,” Racette said. “I’ve passed all the physical hoops, the mental hoops, I’ve done that and beyond. There’s no reason for me to not fight.”
His sports heroes are legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gordie Howe whose careers spanned decades. Racette himself might have generations of fans in the stands this week; the multiple-time toughman boxing champ in the late 1970s and early ’80s went on to fight in Atlantic City and Las Vegas and exotic locales around the world.
Now, his career comes full circle, back to the Island where he threw his first punches. The bout that’s been booked is perhaps a tougher matchup than Racette might have anticipated. His 42-year-old opponent is coming off a 10-round loss last year in a Canadian Professional Boxing Council cruiserweight title fight.
“For some reason, the commission, because of my record, thinks that I should be fighting a top 20 in the world or something,” Racette said. “Hey guys – I haven’t fought in 15 years.”
But it’s coming back to him. Some boxers talk about ring psychology; Racette talks about neurons and dendrites and their role in creating innate qualities through repetition. If he can draw from his experiences in the ring, then it won’t matter as much that he might have lost a step over the years.
“When you see somebody standing in front of you and their shoulder twitches or their eyes open up, you know something’s happening, then you have to react. That’s the difficulty, is trying to co-ordinate what you see and evading the shot,” he said. “It’s difficult, but it can be done.”
It’s supposed to be difficult, he said. Achieving a goal should take a lot of effort. Too many people talk themselves out of trying, or they let themselves get talked out of it.
“Any goal that you have, it’s possible,” said Racette. “You just can’t quit. As soon as you stop your dream, it’s dead. So you have to keep moving towards it.”
And that’s why the old man stays alive to hear the ending of the story, and then the next one, and the next one. And the fight goes on.