by Bobby Franklin
Driving up to Jim McNally’s gym in North Reading on a cloudy Tuesday in April I am on the phone with the former professional boxer explaining why I am running late. In the course of our brief conversation I find out Jim’s father Bernie, who was a hard punching heavyweight fighting out of Cambridge during the 1940s, trained at the Cambridge YMCA. My father, who was a professional wrestler, worked out there at the same time. We spent some time going over mutual acquaintances our father’s had and soon realized they must have known each other. Another of those it’s a small world experiences.
I arrive at Jim McNally Boxing a short while later. The sign outside of the former industrial building says Old School Fitness. Jim greets me as I enter and I immediately feel as if we have known each other for years. He looks like he’s at his fighting weight and could go ten rounds without a problem.
Gentleman Jim, as he was known during his fighting days, had an impressive professional career racking up 19 wins against only 1 loss. His quest for glory came to an end due to an injury received in an auto accident. Before turning pro Jim had an outstanding amateur career, He won the NE AAU heavyweight title in 1975 and 1976, then won the light heavyweight title in 1977 which took him to the National Finals in Hawaii. Yes, I was feeling just a bit envious. Jimmy also lost a split decision to future World Heavyweight Champion Tony Tubbs in the 1976 Calgary Games. Not bad for a local kid.
After ending his boxing career McNally went to Northeastern University then on to serve 4 years with the Wilmington Police Department, 7 years with the Secret Service, and finally a 22 year career with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). After his years of public service Jim opened the boxing gym, returning to the sport he had never lost his passion for.
As we continue our talk, gym members start showing up for their workouts. Jim tells me he doesn’t have a firm schedule for classes, “I run a class every four minutes” he tells me. What I observe is something not seen in a lot of boxing gyms today, something that is much more old school. As each aspiring boxer comes into the gym he or she goes right to work. They wrap up their hands and start going through the boxer’s workout. Shadow boxing, heavy bag, speed bag, calisthenics, skipping rope. I am impressed by how self-motivated they all are, but I am not surprised as Jim has instilled that drive in all of them.
As I listen to a couple of young students drumming the speed bag with a steady rat-a-tat, I ask Jim how long they have been training at his gym. “Just a couple of months for one and a little longer for the other.” They look like old pros as their hands move in rapid fashion against the small bag.
I mention to Jim how many boxing gyms either do not have any speed bags or, if they do, discourage the use of them.
“This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.You learn rhythm on the speed bag.” I couldn’t agree more.
The McNally Boxing Gym has a regulation size canvas floored ring in which I observe trainer Gene Beraldi doing pad work with a number of the members. I am not a big fan of the punch mitts, but the trainers at McNally’s are not just standing flatfooted in front of the boxers letting them plant punches. Instead, they are moving around the ring forcing them to use footwork and accuracy. That’s the old school touch.
As I look around I see an familiar face from years back. It is Danny Cronin who is here training his sons. Danny and I go back to the New Garden Gym days and we immediately start to reminisce about the old times. Danny was a very successful pro and one of the hardest punchers to ever lace on the gloves. Jim chimes in to say how his mother told him
“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”
The young people who come to McNally’s Gym not only get to experience what it is like to be in an old school boxing gym, they also learn lessons bout life, which is something boxing, when taught properly, instills in people. I like very much something Jim said while we were talking,
“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”That statement is true on so many levels.
As the time winds down for my visit I ask the young pugs who have just finished working out how they feel about the workout. “It’s fun.” “I feel tired but good.” I can tell by the smiles on their faces they have all had a great time. I can also see the admiration they have for Jim McNally who has time for all of them.
Jim, who has been going through some tough times with the loss of one brother and a cancer diagnosis for another tells me “Thank God for my gym. If I didn’t have this I don’t know what I’d do.” In almost Buddhist fashion, the good Jim gets from his gym is returned by him a hundred fold to those who come there. McNally, who sparred a couple of hundred rounds with Marvin Hagler, proved his toughness years ago. Everyday he shows his goodness.
Jim McNally’s Gym is located at 48 Main Street, North Reading. For more information call 978-664-1900. People of all ages are welcome.