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Ashley Fourie - by Pete Moscardi

Boxing, it is said, is a sport with it share of colorful characters. Ashley Fourie stands out from the rest in vivid technicolour, such ave been the roller coaster experiences of life - and near death - which have been packed into his 60 years of existence. Listening to the Ashley Fourie story is akin to listening to a combination of a tale from the Wild West and that of a story from an action-packed thriller. And by rights he should not be alive today, having once been the victim of the most horrific motorcycle accident imaginable which left him in a coma for months and with life-threatening injuries. But Ashley Fourie redefines the meaning of the world survivor and that years together with his past experiences have mellowed him considerably since hi tearaway younger days.

Today Ashley is the proud owner of Ashley Fourie's ProBox Boxing Academy, located in a quiet side street in Randburg. Under the same roof is the Randburg Amateur Boxing Club to which Ashley devotes equal time and effort. Ashley started his well equipped gym some nine years ago after being retrenched from Telkom for whom he had worked most of his life. "I started the gym as a boxercise club. There was only on other club like it in Johannesburg at that time and that was run by an ex boxer called Mick Castellan," he says. But there is a lot of story to be told leading up to the formation of Ashley Fourie's ProBox Boxing Academy - only a small fraction of which can be told in this space.

Ashely was born in Johannesburg and grew up in Yeoville. "Right from grade 1 I got into fights when the kids would tease me because of my big ears and my Afrikaans name (I was at an English School)> Hardly a day went by when I was not in a scrap. My dad took me to the Yeoville Boxing Club when I was just five-years-old and from that moment I was hooked on boxing," he recalls. Ashley's amateur career surpasses that of his professional antecedents - but then it is important to account for the fact that a near tragedy was to see his professional career undergo an implosion. "I had around 297 amateur fights both as a junior and senior, winning in the region of 250. I won five Johannesburg titles as a junior and senior and four Transvaal titles, one as a junior and three as a senior. I boxed in the middleweight division when I was a senior. I also won two South African titles - one as a junior and one as a senior. I boxed in the Springbok trials in 1965 for a tour of the UK and Italy. I made the finals - but just before the final box-off events it was discovered that I was just two weeks short of 17, which was the minimum age for a senior, and I was disqualified from competing further," he says.

Ashley boxed as an amateur out of the famous Huguenot Club and he remained with the club's chief trainer, Naas Botes, when he turned professional in 1969 - together with Jan Kies who was to later go on to win a South African title. Ashley's professional debut in March 1969 did not exactly go to plan as he lost on a disqualification to Gerry Botha. But he bounced back later in the same month to get a points win ever the rock hard Basie Cilliers. He dropped a four round decision to Ben Botha in the June of that year - and then an event occurred which nearly ended his life. "I was riding home on my motorcycle from a training session at the Huguenot Club when a taxi jumped a red light and T-boned me. I was dragged under its wheels for about 100m before I was finally thrown off," he says.

The injuries Ashley sustained from this horrific accident would have killed the average person. "I was in a coma for seven weeks and had 11 operations on my jaw which was shattered. My knee cap had to be ra;ced and my leg was also broken in several places. I was unable to walk for months while I was on crutches. While I was coming around from the coma I heard the surgeon tell my mother that I was not going to make it - but he did not reckon on my fighting spirit. I was told by the doctors that it was doubtful that I would ever walk again without crutches. Reg Park, the former body builder, used to carry me to his car and drive me out to a swimming pool in Braamfontein where he made me do leg exercises," he recalls. But not only did Ashley manage to walk again without crutches, he also made a comeback just a year after the accident.

"I lost my first comeback fight against Frik Ludick on a sixth round TKO when my artificial knee cap shot our of place, but I won my second comeback fight when I stopped the Cape champion, Hannes Madsen in five in Cape Town." Ashley lost his next two fights when the injuries sustained in the accident just proved too much of a handicap. "In my fight against Johnny Brits I had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher when my artificial knee cap turned around 180 degrees," he explains.

A break from boxing followed for the next five years, but Ashley found himself falling into a state of depression due to both the post trauma of the accident and his inability to perform at top level in the ring. A chance meeting with Willie Toweel in 1976 turned his life around. "Willie was a top trainer at that time and had a terrific stable of fighters such as Charlie Weir and Bruce McIntyre. Willie asked me to come to his gym and to work out with these fighters and I ended up sparring with Bruce. Willie then asked me to help in the corner and he ended up teaching me everything I knew about training."

Ashley moved to Port Shepstone, Natal in 1990. He discovered there was no boxing in the area so he managed to persuade the Railways to give him a disused hall at the Port Shepstone station where he formed the Port Shepstone Boxing Club. "I was in Natal for seven years and the Natal amateur authorities eventually noticed me and elected me to Vice President of the Natal Amateur Boxing Association. I produced two Natal champions, one of whom my was son, Kenneth who was the super-heavyweight champion of the country. He was also a keen rugby player, and gave up boxing to play rugby overseas. He ended up playing for both Cardiff and Leicester. Today he is a successful businessman in the US," Ashley says proudly.

Moving to Durban in 1996, he took over the training of the boxers who fought for the late Doug Dolan who was the leading promoter in Natal at the time. A year later Telkom transferred him back to Johannesburg. The training of boxers was something that was not in his blood and Ashley took over the premises of the old Brixton Boxing Club where he trained a team of seven professionals. Although he is today still very involved in the amateur side of the sport he admits that it has undergone a major decline since his says as an amateur competitor. Asked for a reason Ashley provides as strange answer. "I put much of the decline in amateur boxing down to the Rocky movies. These movies depict boxing as a brutal sport with fighters sustaining brutal beaints in the ring in every fight. This put off a lot of parents from allowing their sons to join boxing clubs. Also the sport suffered when it was taken off the school curricula."

Ashley is a raconteur whose tales of his life can have one riveted. Johannesburg was a colourful city in the 50s and early 60s, which was the era of the "duck tails" and when there was proliferation of gangs and gang wars. Of course I knew most of the "characters" who were around the time, and I got into my fair share of bother with some of them. But boxing was my life in those days and much of my time was spent in training. I remember once I asked my dad to come on a run with me. I got a bit carried away and the next thing I knew he had dropped out. We had stared out from our home in Yeoville. I wasn't too perturbed about where I was when I discovered that I was out in the country - I was just enjoying the run. But when I found myself in a small village I did not recognize I decided to ask someone where I was. I realized I had come a bit far when I was told I was in Magaliesberg. I got hell from my dad as he had to come and fetch me," he says with a grin.

Ashley is content with his present circumstances and his club - and today he has a team of 30amateurs, six professionals and 85 members of the boxercise classes. "the latter come from all sectors of society and there are doctors, lawyers and bankers of all ages - the oldest of whom is 61. The gym has a notable vibrancy about it and the atmosphere is unmistakably that of a boxing seat shop. Ashley is justifiably proud of what the club has achieved. The gym contains all the equipment found in any top professional training establishment and the sound of the nine heavy bags being pounded by the boxers resonates throughout the hall. He points at the heavy bags, identifying two new ones - "You see those two bags, they were kindly donated to my by ex boxer Brett Taylor just as a gesture of goodwill. Boxing people are a fraternity and you often from gems such as Brett," he says.

The rapport Ashley has established with his team of boxers is tangible and a tremendous spirit of camaraderie flourishes under his management. "Even my boxercise members are part of the team. When my boxers are fighting about 60% of the boxercise people come along to support them," he says. The effort he has put into amateur boxing is almost certainly disproportionate to his return on investment. "I have put on five amateur tournaments at Randburg's Bright Water Commons over the last five years. I have called them Round One, Round Two etc. My next show will be in September and that will be Round Six. I stage those on an annual basis and I have had terrific response. One of the shows attracted 7000 spectators. The management of the Bright Water Commons have been great and I have been given sponsored meal vouchers for members of the Johannesburg Veterans Boxing Association to eat at any of the restaurants in the centre," he says proudly.

So we return to what we said earlier about this one-time tearaway mellowing. I ask Ashley whether he has any particular philosophy on life. He pulls up his sleeve to reveal a muscular arm, on which a tattoo is inscribed. The words profoundly, but simply say: 'I do my best - God does the rest.' "This is my philosophy and motto in life which I have adopted. It is also the motto of my gym," he says.