Vinnie Ryan, the coach, above right with Rob Gauvin, one of his students, and at right in his youth when he was a six time Irish national boxing champ. Photo courtesy Rob Gauvin

Vinnie Ryan built champs in the ring, life

By  Sheila Nonato, Catholic Register Special
  • November 16, 2023

HAMILTON, Ont. -- Boxing Canada has joined former students from across the country in sending an outpouring of gratitude for the late Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame coach Vinnie Ryan.

Mr. Ryan died on Oct. 31 after battling health complications. He was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“The students were like his children. There have been so many letters from people all over Canada who have been coached by him,” said his wife, Val, just days after they celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

Tributes were also being posted on social media recalling the legendary Canadian coach’s legacy.

Mr. Ryan, always the fighter, had been recovering from an illness but made it to his 84th birthday at McGrory’s Boxing Club, now located in the basement of Hamilton’s St. Ann’s Catholic Church. He and Val coached together at McGrory’s for 40 years. Val recalled the joyful milestone celebration with students who they consider family.

Boxing Canada joined in the outpouring of love and gratitude on its website. In a section called “CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF VINNIE RYAN,” Boxing Canada wrote in tribute:  “The entire Boxing community is invited to remember the contributions of Vinnie Ryan.”

Mr. Ryan was a former president of Boxing Ontario, the Boxing Canada executive and coached with the Canadian National Team at the Pan American and Commonwealth Games, it noted.

In addition to his wife and two children, Sean and Jackie, his boxing students are also part of their family, Val said.

One of those students is Lt.-Col. Rob Gauvin. In Grade 9, Gauvin’s family moved to Hamilton from Thunder Bay, Ont., near the first location of McGrory’s Boxing Club.

“I walked in one day and it changed my life,” he said in an interview from Edmonton.

Gauvin said his marks “weren’t great in high school.” However, after years of training with Mr. Ryan, he graduated as the top student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School and became a Governor General’s Award Winner.

“His commitment to the fighters went beyond the ring,” Gauvin said.

Gauvin remembers when the Ryans let him borrow their car since he didn’t have one to practice for his driving test and when Mr. Ryan bought him his first pair of running shoes when he couldn’t afford them.

Gauvin practised law in Ontario, and was a police officer in Hamilton for 15 years. He is now a JAG (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) Legal Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces based in Alberta.

He said he will always remember Mr. Ryan’s unconditional support.

“He would head back to the corner of the ring after a fight. No matter what, he had his arms extended to give you a hug,” said Gauvin, who travelled to Hamilton to give the eulogy at Mr. Ryan’s Nov. 10 memorial service.

“When I won the (Governor General’s Award), it was the same thing he did when I became a police officer, when he came to my wedding and stood as my father,” he recalled.

Mr. Ryan coached several male and female Canadian national champions, and coached at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Mr. Ryan was a six-time Irish champion.

“Boxing is more skill than power. That’s the way I run the show,” Mr. Ryan said in his last interview with The Catholic Register in July. “Teach them respect. That’s what we teach them.” 

Val said he came to Canada at the age of 26, hoping to travel to Argentina.

“He never got past Hamilton. He loved Hamilton,” she said.

They met six months after he arrived and were married 10 months later at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Hamilton.

Along with coaching with Val, Mr. Ryan ran his business, Varan Mechanical.

One of the many cherished memories Val has with her husband was attending a tournament run by boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the 1990s in Louisville, Kentucky. Val recalled that Mr. Ryan’s friend spoke to Ali.

“He said to Muhammad Ali, ‘My brother boxed you in London (England),’ and quick as a wink, (Ali) said, ‘He still owes me 50 bucks,’ ” Val recalled with a laugh.

In his last interview, Mr. Ryan said he and his wife were confident in passing on the torch to Lawrence and Maria Hay, current owners of McGrory’s Boxing Club.  The couple share their vision of forming champions in sport and in life.

Mr. Ryan said their shared commitment has always been “to make sure that after boxing, they have the skills to succeed in the world.”

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