Fight Through the Fire - The Story of Noel Harding & the Brandon Boxing Club

By Elyce Pereira

In 2018, while Noel Harding was at the highest point in his athletic career, undefeated and preparing for a match in Mexico, he was also at the lowest in his professional career as he learned that his gym in Brandon, Manitoba was in flames. Leading up to his fight against Gilberto Valadez, his phone was lighting up with messages and photos updating him on the severity of the fire.

Riley Laychuk/CBCAlthough he won his match that day, he lost the battle as his gym was turned to ash. The building along with thousands of dollars worth of equipment were lost in the flames. Noel and the Brandon Boxing Club had to start over from the very beginning. With nowhere to go and the scorching sun coming down onto the blacktop, Noel and his athletes began training in the parking lot next to the rubble.

The Brandon Boxing Club lost many of their members due to the fire, and had a hard time finding a new space that they could rebuild in. From not enough space available, to rent being too expensive, Noel had to jump through many hoops to finally find a gym that could accommodate the boxing club. This is where his connections with the surrounding community members saved his business.

In particular, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and its youth played a big role in finding and securing a new home for the club. There were already quite a few athletes traveling to Brandon to train in the old gym, so it wasn't long before Noel and the community struck a deal with each other. Sioux Valley agreed to pay one month of rent for the boxing club, while Noel agreed that the club would allow their youth to access the gym and its programs at no cost. With this incredibly generous donation from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, the Brandon Boxing Club was able to get their foot in the door to a new space and begin to reopen and rebuild the gym.

Re-opening would have been an impossible task if it weren't for the help and motivation from the surrounding communities and its members. Taking into account that the city of Brandon could not help Noel with the rebuilding of the club, he took matters into his own hands, and used the many friendships and connections that he has built through the years to gain the momentum and the means for a newer, bigger, and better gym to train in.

Something that motivated him through the mental and financial hardships that he faced after the fire were his relationships with his parents, his son, and fellow community members. Rebuilding the gym was a total team effort that couldn't have been done without the help of his family and friends. Noel hopes to connect with many other Indigenous communities, so that they can have a place to come and be active, to connect with other athletes, to grow within the sport, and most importantly to have fun. Throughout the last couple years, it has been crucial for Noel to remember that "the power of a positive mental attitude is undeniable", and may not have been as successful as he is now without that positive outlook.

In the future, Noel hopes to continue his work with Indigenous youth in the surrounding areas, expanding on his Knocking Out Addictions program, and opening his gym up to more Indigenous members with free access.

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