Two years ago, a middle-age man walked into Gregory Boxing, a boxing gym in Des Plaines. He'd never before thrown a punch, but he wanted to learn about the sport. Wayne Gregory remembers seeing him that day and feeling worried.
"There’s really good athletes in here, so in the beginning, I was more concerned about, 'How am I going to protect him?'," Gregory says.
Quickly, Gregory realized he didn't need to do much of anything. The middle-age man, Sung Woo, could hold his own. Woo caught on fast, fell in love with the sport, and ever since, he's been a fixture at the gym.
Woo doesn't speak fluent English, but through a translator, he explained why he was drawn to boxing.
"[I] didn't find fulfillment in basic things like running, and [I] needed something more exciting, so that's why [I] got into boxing," said Woo.
The native of South Korea is now 61 years-old and works with Gregory up to five days a week. Most impressive? Woo's coach never sees his pupil slow down.
"I didn't know he was 61 until just recently," Gregory said. "I figured he was in his 50's, but he's definitely proven he belongs in here with everybody."
"Through [my] sparring and fighting, [I] hope other people [my] age will start going to the gym, maybe even meet a coach and then from there, start exercising more so that they become healthier individuals," Woo says.
Soon, Woo will take his love of boxing to a different level. He's scheduled for a championship fight at the upcoming Chicago Golden Gloves. The event has been postponed due to the coronavirus, but he can't wait for it to be rescheduled. It'll be his first fight, ever.
"[I'm] very excited and very happy and looking forward to it," Woo says.
The Mount Prospect-resident will be the oldest man competing at the Golden Gloves event, and he'll fight a man a decade younger than him. Does that worry his coach? Not one bit.
"He has a lot of power. He's a southpaw, which means he's left-handed -- that's a problem for anybody. He's like a bad grandpa," said Gregory.