A hero in the ring
On a balmy Monday night in early May there are about 10 boxers, give or take, at Lion Den’s Boxing in Winona. They wait in line, eager to impress their coaches and nearby parents, as well as themselves, with an array of jabs, hooks and uppercuts. On the other side of the gym a young, agile boxer moves with finesse and skill as he shadowboxes alone.
As the class ends and the students file out, two second graders, Collin Cocoran and Molly Cassellius, lag behind and peek around the corner to where the boxer is training. In unison they tell him, “Bye, Justus!” The boxer turns
his head and smiles at them, waving goodbye. He face is boyish and handsome, but not without personality, including a recent black eye from sparring over the weekend.
“What a good role model for younger kids,” remarked Jen Corcoran, Collin’s mother.
“He works hard and is so deserving,” added Emily Cassellius, Molly’s mother.
Justus Pomeroy is what some might call a local boxing champ — a hero. At 21, he is an Upper Midwest Golden Gloves Champion (UMGGC) with a shot at the national title come the weekend of May 11, when he will compete in the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions (NGGTC) in Las Vegas. “This is the first time I will be going to nationals – I am beyond excited, pretty speechless,” he said.
On April 16, Pomeroy earned the UMGGC in the Light Welterweight division by beating Tavarus Roberts, who is part of the U.S. Air Force boxing team. The previous day Pomeroy won a split decision over Joe James, from St. Cloud. “Justus showed a lot of diversity in the ring,” said Kendric Carter, one of Pomeroy’s two coaches and a former boxer himself. “He was pretty much two different fighters those two nights. He adjusted really well to his opponents.”
Adapting is what boxers must do. They adapt to their opponents, the environment, the crowd. The setting for the 2015 UMGGC was the Northern Lights Casino, a large and quality arena. “Right off the bat, it was just nice and big,” Pomeroy remembered.
During Pomeroy’s championship bout against Roberts, the lights in the auditorium dimmed, and the two boxers were the only objects illuminated. Pomeroy’s grandfather and coach Bill Pomeroy came in with a game plan to win the fight, which relied on stamina, punching power and speed. Bill and Carter also knew that Roberts was a powerful inside puncher, and under their direction Pomeroy adjusted to his opponent, using in-and-out boxing skills, combined with a quick footwork. “They called my name and it was, ‘all right, it’s go time,’” he said. From there, Pomeroy remembers, he had tunnel vision, and his only goal was to withstand the three three-minute rounds, which are, of course, always longer inside the boxing ring than outside of it. Because of this, Pomeroy works not only on the power and timing of his punches, but also on his ability to endure — outlast — his opponent. “It’s almost a thinking man’s game,” he explained. “You try to set [the other boxer] up. There’s never really rest in the ring, and you breathe when you can.” Boxers are taught to push air out with every punch. Short, staccato breaths that sound like quick spurts of air being let out of a tire, or a sharp hiss of a snake. It helps with performance and stamina, Carter explained.
Winona born and raised, Pomeroy is slender at 141 pounds, but lean, with long, sinewy arms that work to his advantage in the ring as he makes effective jabs, all the while staying out of his opponent’s reach. “My favorite would be the left hook or the left jab,” he explained, grinning. “It gets me out of trouble.”
At 13, Pomeroy took up boxing after he “When I was really young I played football, but I didn’t really like the running aspect of other sports,” he said. Pomeroy enjoyed the classic boxing movie “Rocky” and decided that he
would give boxing a try. “I just checked it out and fell in love with it,” he said. To outsiders, the relationship between Pomeroy and his grandfather might hint at a longstanding boxing tradition, but in actuality, it was the younger Pomeroy who helped garner interest in the elder. “I got into it because he got into it,” Bill explained. Both he and Carter are volunteers, as were the coaches before them. “They got burned out,” Bill said. “I told Justus, if you still wanna come, I’ll coach.” And so he did, and learned more about the sport of boxing in the process. “Kendric and I are registered with USA Boxing,” he explained, and now both Bill and Carter have been coaching at the Lion’s Den for about six years. Pomeroy’s win in April marked the first time both coaches have sent a boxer to the NGTCC.
While Pomeroy will attend the championship on his own, with coaches from the Twin Cities, he will have a whole town in his corner. “It will be a little different, but I have faith in the coaches I’m going with,” Pomeroy said. “At the end of the day, I know [Bill and Carter are] still with me and all the training we’re doing now is what matters the most.” Pomeroy paused and then said, “I’ll still be hearing Kendric say, ‘Throw the jab! Throw the jab!’”
“You better throw the jab!” Carter exclaimed, smiling.
Lion’s Den Boxing occupies the second floor of Team Howell Fitness, a brick building with a side parking lot across the way from the Westfield Golf Course. “It’s Winona’s hidden gem,” said Emily Casselius.
Open 24/7, the crossfit gym on the first floor of Howell Fitness smells of a pleasant artificial citrus, while the boxing gym is open and airy, and doesn’t really smell of anything. Boxing classes are every Monday and Thursday, starting at 5:30 p.m. All ages are welcomed and the atmosphere is friendly, but serious, the kind of combination that makes for a good class. “[The coaches] are the most confident and encouraging men,” Cassellius said. “They are always so positive and encouraging.”