Ray Beaulieu boxed for the first time when he was 19, although he was a veteran when it came to fighting. He’d been in plenty of fights at parties and on the street before he ever walked into Two Rivers boxing club in Quesnel, B.C.
Nineteen was a late start, says Beaulieu, and most of the other guys at the club started in their early teens, but he found training to be a constructive way to spend his time. Beaulieu recounts those early days boxing at Two Rivers as a lesson in discipline and respect. Already into drugs and alcohol by the time he stepped into the ring, Beaulieu credits boxing, and his former coach Wally Dorn, with a positive influence on his life.
“He was more of a father figure. He saved a lot of young kids from trouble,” Beaulieu says about his former coach, who was also a foster parent of Beaulieu’s cousins. Beaulieu describes his introduction to competitive boxing almost as an addiction, albeit a constructive one.
“For us there was the training, but then there was a competition. So you'd go to other towns and other towns come to you and you compete against each other and you get the trophy and other people see that and it gets contagious.
“Everyone wants to get in [the ring]. Everybody gets hooked on to that; staying fit, staying healthy and staying out of trouble, staying in school so you can compete and train,” Beaulieu says.
Training under Dorn, Beaulieu boxed in the amateur circuit while balancing a full-time job for six years before he hung up his gloves. At 25 he stopped competing and training for five years and put his energy into his work as a scaffolder, but he wasn’t ready to leave boxing behind officially.
Then, at age 30, Beaulieu decided it was time to step back into the ring.
“I had the desire to come back and compete and see if I still had it in me,” says Beaulieu.
It turned out he did, and he competed at the amateur level for two years, retiring with bronze gloves, silver gloves and gold gloves titles.
“By the time I made it up to the provincial level I was already over 30 and a little bit too old for boxing.
“Between trying to balance working and boxing at the same time,” Beaulieu explains. “It just wasn't something I could dedicate all my time to.”
Boxing is still a driving force in his life, Beaulieu says, but now he’s on the other side of the ropes.
“You get to that point where you just can't do it anymore. It's not that I don't want to do it but I think for me, I'm more useful teaching.”
In addition to coaching, Beaulieu was also inspired by the lessons he learned through boxing at Two Rivers and decided to make a major career change by completing courses to become a personal trainer and fitness instructor.
“I got into fitness through my boxing experience. It's more of a desire to educate people in the fact that there's more to fitness than just lifting weights. I feel strongly that it's not all about getting ready for the beach, it's about all around maintenance and taking care of yourself,” Beaulieu says.
“Things are relative when you start taking care of your body; your mind follows, your spirit follows and things change.”
Beaulieu says he experienced firsthand the whole-body positive effects of physical exercise and credits the healthy habit with getting his life back on track after he’d given up boxing the second time.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Beaulieu states matter-of-factly. “I pretty much hit rock bottom and I had to get my mind right and one of the things I fell back on was my boxing experiences and remembering what it took [to achieve],” including respect for yourself and other people and discipline, Beaulieu says.
“When I started educating myself in fitness through boxing, I realized the better I looked the better I felt about myself and the achievements I was getting through physical fitness. At first it started as 'I want to look good. I want to be healthy,' but then I started to get into the mindset that it's actually working.
"And then through the spiritual side I started to feel better [about] myself. And I found more constructive things to do with my time as opposed to going to the bars, like 'now I'm into a program, I don't want to mess up my program by having a couple drinks on the weekend.'”
Like with boxing, Beaulieu found in personal training a way to sublimate habits that threatened to derail his goals.
“What I used to say to people is that I lifted weights for so long and so heavy that I couldn't [physically] lift a bottle to my lips. So it was one of those things that helped me fill that void and gave me something constructive to do with my time. At the time I didn't know what I was doing I just kind of showed up and followed what other people were doing,” Beaulieu says.
Regardless of his lack of prior knowledge, Beaulieu continued to push himself in the gym.
“Once you get into that routine it's almost like developing another addiction, but a healthy addiction,” says Beaulieu. “It's giving you something constructive to do with your time.”
A new transplant to North Battleford, Beaulieu moved to the city to be closer to his girlfriend and, he says, he sees similarities between his childhood in Quesnel and the young people here in North Battleford, in particular with regards to a lack of constructive outlets to fill the time.
While still living in Quesnel, Beaulieu had begun to coach boxing after he stopped competing. Now, he says, being able to introduce younger generations to the sport has been a more gratifying experience than competing in some ways.
“It's more about training the kids and giving them the proper training. We had good training, but nowadays you can get a personal trainer, a nutritionist and get on a proper diet," says Beaulieu.
“Even as young kids all the stuff can come into play, you know, teach them now and give them that knowledge and the tools and show them what dedication will get you.
“The knowledge and the tools are the biggest things.”
Still newly arrived in North Battleford, Beaulieu isn’t wasting any time with getting back into coaching and says he’s already spoken with Dylin Clarke of Battlefords Boxing Club about coaching. Beaulieu added that with his experience and similar history, he says he thinks it’s a great opportunity.
Looking back on his time competing, Beaulieu says the positive experiences and lessons he learned through his time boxing competitively are amplified by being able to impart them on to others.
“The thing about fighting is, once you get into that competition and you train with people, there is a camaraderie that develops. You develop a love for the people you're training with and a respect for the people you're competing against. It takes a certain type of somebody to get into the ring and actually compete with somebody,” explains Beaulieu.
“There's a thrill involved in that, and for me, to give a kid the opportunity to get into the ring and give all that he's got, I think that's the big thing right there.”