Graham has 'you can do it' message for young people

Boxing identity Billy Graham blasts out a tune on his harmonica while delivering a speech at the...
Boxing identity Billy Graham blasts out a tune on his harmonica while delivering a speech at the Otago Medical Research Foundation’s Otago Club lunch at the Glenroy Auditorium yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The yellow blazer, matching loud shirt and bow tie were a bit of a giveaway.

Billy Graham likes to stand out. He will wiggle his ears just because he can. He can play the harmonica through his nose and he is likely to start yodelling without warning.

Not sure what is more disturbing, really.

But wrapped up in all Graham's eccentricities is the heart-warming message "you can do it".

The 72-year-old boxing identity is passionate about the sport. But he is more passionate about helping children with tough backgrounds find a better path in life.

He was in Dunedin yesterday to speak at the Otago Medical Research Foundation's Otago Club lunch.

He worled the Glenroy Auditorium like he might have done the ring, all those years ago.

Those trademark spider-like arms, which helped carry him to New Zealand and Australasian light welterweight titles, thrashed left and jagged right to illustrate each point.

"See, you can do it," he enthused as he flicked through photos of himself with a coterie of boxers, politicians and high-ranking public officials.

And his message is simple. Young people need positive role models, discipline and encouragement.

Graham's own upbringing was tough and he had the odd scrape with the law. One cop had the foresight to take the lad to Naenae Boxing Club where he met boxing coach Dick Dunn.

That meeting changed his life. Dunn saw potential in the young misfit and that encouragement was all Graham needed.

"You can do anything with a little help from your friends," Graham said.

The Naenae Boxing Club was a refuge for the young Graham and inspired him to establish a gym of his own.

In 2006, he set up the Naenae Boxing Academy and it exists to assist local youth through its programmes. It is the fulfilment of his lifelong dream.​

Gyms based on Graham's model are popping all around the country but there are no plans to set one up in Dunedin.

"We show people how to set the gym up like we do.

"There is no swearing, no bullying, you shake hands when you walk in and out and what happens in between with sparring is finished at the door.

"But we don't go to people. They have to come to us and say: `Billy, we're in Temuka, we don't have a boxing club here. How can you help?"'

Graham is a vehemently opposed to charity boxing events. In his view, they damage the sport's reputation and undermine the positive aspects of the sport.

He takes the wellbeing of the young athletes under his charge very seriously and arms them with the skills they need to avoid being hurt in the ring.

"I'm paranoid about kids getting hurt. So they all have headgear on and big gloves.

"We have nothing to do with Fight for Life.

"We don't like people fighting who can't box. That is not boxing, it is a punch-up."

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