November 10th, 2004 Chris Lydgate | Special Section Stories
 

THE CONTENDER

Andy Minsker, featherweight boxer

     
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Jan. 24, 1985
In 1985, when WW put him on our cover, Andy Minsker was at the top of his game. Golden Gloves champion. Amateur Boxing Federation champion. He had flattened both the British Commonwealth and Yugoslav champs with first-round knockouts. The featherweight from Milwaukie had just turned pro. Somewhere along the line, he had also been an underwear model for Calvin Klein and cavorted with supermodels like Christie Brinkley.

Nineteen years later, Minsker, 42, still moves like a mongoose, head canted forward, shoulders squared, pacing the floor on the balls of his feet. But instead of a boxing ring, his domain is now an auto-detailing shop hidden behind a strip mall on Highway 212 that smells of motor oil and bruised glory.

It was a classic David-and-Goliath story, the kind Portland has always loved to hear. Minsker was just 8 years old, a scrawny kid from Milwaukie, when he first walked into a ratty gym at the Mount Scott Community Center. The other boys were all bigger than him. "I got my ass kicked every day," he remembers. "Every day!"

But boxing was in his genes. His father, Hugh, had been an Olympic alternate in 1954. And Minsker showed amazing discipline. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He trained five days a week, every week, for 15 years. And he punched his way to the top.

By the time he hung up his gloves, Minsker had fought 344 matches--and never been knocked off his feet. But there was a secret looming over his career like a shadow.

His right hand was as fragile as a 60-watt bulb.

Minsker smashed his hand on an opponent's head in 1981. Surgery repaired some of the damage, but the hand was never the same. "You're supposed to have 11 bones in there," he says, taking a discreet pinch of chew. "I got 60."

Every time he climbed in the ring, Minsker had to soak his right hand in ice for an hour before the match and an hour afterwards, just to numb it up. He learned how to swipe at opponents with his right but deliberately miss--just so no one would figure out his weakness.

Finally, the charade proved too hard to maintain. Each time he connected with his right, Minsker felt a blast of pain. "It was like getting hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat," he says. He fought his last bout in the fall of 1991.

After retiring from the ring, Minsker went into business, marketing a tobaccoless chew called Winner's Edge. Then came a line of sweatshirts called Fight Team. Then he did a stint in upholstery school, which ultimately led him into the auto-detailing biz.

Minsker says he can't bear to watch professional boxing any more. "It hurts my heart," he says, expertly aiming a stream of saliva into a spittoon. "I fought for 22 years. I stepped into the ring 344 times. Against the best in the country. The best in the world. Imagine the adrenaline rush. Imagine how it feels. Now imagine you can't do it no more."

Instead, he has channeled his spectator energies into racing. His wife, Zoe, is a racecar driver, and Minsker's workshop is a veritable shrine to late NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, featuring a commemorative toolbox, clock, baseball and lunchbox. Minsker, who reckons he owns $100,000 worth of Earnhardt memorabilia, sports a Dale Earnhardt tattoo on his right forearm. "It killed the whole country when he died," Minsker says. "Me and my wife sat around for three days in tears."

But something kept drawing Minsker back to the ring. Two years ago, he opened a spare, unpretentious gym on a back road in Damascus, where the walls are festooned with fight cards from his boxing career. On any given evening, he coaches a couple dozen kids and adults on a little ring built by his father, who trains there twice a week.

Minsker's boxing career is a thing of the past, but his eyes still burn with the same dream--except that his role has shifted from boxer to coach. "I get more nervous watching one of my kids fight than I ever did when I was fighting myself," he laughs.

"All it takes is one kid--just one kid--to make it all worthwhile."


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Intro | Tonya's Mob: Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly & Shawn Eckardt | The Crusader: Gordon Shadburne | The Meteor: Billy Ray Bates | Satan's Pilgrim: Rex Diabolos Church | The Firebrand: Ron Herndon | The Bad Boy: Frank Peters | The Broken Halo: Michael Stoops | The Crack Mother: Anita Nichols | The Veejay: Kennedy | The Girl from Electra: Treva Throneberry | The Perfect Victim: Azalea Cooley | The Grappler: Dutch Savage | Wonder Boy: Pat Gillis | The Ex-Files: Marcia & Steve Moskowitz | The Witness: Dave Mazzella | The Prankster: Igor Vamos | The Intern: Monica Lewinsky | The Runaways: Diane Walden & Peter | Top Cop: Mark Kroeker | Sprawl Kitten: Kate Schiele | Authority Figure: Rocky Balada | The Hulk: Dry Dock 4 | The Candidate: Gail Shibley | The Super: Ben Canada | The Organ Grinder: Dr. William J. Brady | Pillars of the Community: The Lovejoy Columns | The Survivor: Giles Thompson | The Contender: Andy Minsker | Space Invader: The Phantom Dialer | The Red Menace: Ma Anand Sheela

 
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