Veteran continues to win battle of physical challenges
Chuck Bodak, one of boxing’s premier cutmen, will turn 93 on June 3 of this year. After suffering a stroke in August of 2007, the legendary veteran is now residing in a private care home in Mission Viejo, California. Winning past bouts with both pneumonia and a staph infection, the gritty cornerman continues to fight through his recent health ailments. Chuck’s heart and will is a testament to the fortitude he has–just like the countless world champions he has assisted in corners throughout his career.
Chuck may be in a wheelchair with his speech halted at times, but his spirit is still strong even in his twilight years. There is no quit in this cutman.
After previous stays in Anaheim and Laguna Hills locations, he is now comfortably entering his “12th Round” of life in a sunny and cheerful environment in the south Orange County residence he has called home since August of last year.
Well-known in corners, Chuck has worked with over 60 top fighters including Muhammad Ali, Tommy Hearns, Julio Cesar Chavez, EvanderHolyfield and Oscar De La Hoya. He continued to work in the ring, still active in the boxing world right up until the time of his stroke. The cutman is famous for his unique headbands, his salty jokes and for his handmade jewelry, caps and art collages that he gave away as gifts.
He spent decades giving tirelessly to the boxing community as a fighter, trainer, cutman, author and even as an unlikely movie star. His family is appreciative of everyone who has called, written or visited the popular Bodak.
And the fight community has not forgotten him. The hallmark of 2008 was Chuck receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in person at October’s WBC Legends of Boxing Museum ceremony. At this event, Chuck was in fine spirits and had a great day giving an acceptance speech, flipping off the crowd with his famous middle-finger salute, even chatting up a bevy of beauties who were in attendance. Trust me, Chuck’s feisty personality still shines through even at 92 years “young.”
One month later, the World Boxing Hall of Fame bestowed another accolade upon Chuck with a special Recognition Award at their annual Banquet of Champions in November. The organization had already inducted Chuck into the “Expanded Category” of their Hall of Fame a few years ago but wanted to give the cutman this additional honor which was presented by Board of Director Steve Harpst
My boyfriend, Steve (a boxing trainer and sculptor) and I have known Chuck for over a decade. The cutman had twice traveled to Canada with Steve’s Burbank Boxing Club for amateur shows and we have stayed in contact with Chuck as much as possible especially after his stroke.
At the beginning of this year, I called one of the fight game’s best cutmen to wish him a “Happy New Year.” His main caretaker, Henry, said Chuck was doing as well as could be but was not able to come to the phone at that time. Currently, with his speech in decline since the stroke, it is difficult for Chuck to talk at any length. Close family friend Ray Marconi says, “It’s harder for Chuck to converse right now, but everyone is welcome to send Chuck cards.” Friends and fans who would like to say hello to the cutman are encouraged to snail mail a greeting to the address provided at the conclusion of this article.
In paying tribute to one of boxing’s best-known personalities, I’d like to share with you my interview with Chuck (from January 1, 2008) that was originally printed in Ringsports magazine. Now a year later, I would have loved to have done my annual New Year’s Day interview with him. Unfortunately, due to the effects of Chuck’s stroke and other health ailments, it is not possible at this time. But exactly one year ago, the famed cutman was able to chat with me about our favorite sport as you can read below.
-INTERVIEW WITH CHUCK BODAK FROM JANUARY 1, 2008-
On New Year’s Day of 2008, we went to visit one of boxing’s most colorful cutmen, our friend Chuck Bodak. After suffering a stroke in August 2007, Chuck is now in a private care facility in Laguna Hills, California and continues to undergo therapy to regain movement in the partially paralyzed left side of his body. But his speaking skills are fully intact, as I quickly learned.
As we all watched the Rose Bowl game together, Chuck and I had a chance to talk and he reminisced about the things he’s learned over 91 years of life, in and out of the boxing ring. Chuck was rooting for the underdog Illinois team, but as USC scored another easy touchdown, I realized that he believed the underdog could somehow make a comeback. This is an example of Chuck’s philosophy about giving anyone a fighting chance and always believing in the less fortunate underdogs.
Vasil “Chuck” Bodak was born in Gary, Indiana, and worked there for many years, before moving to Chicago, Illinois, where he was involved with the Golden Gloves. He moved to California in the 1980s to pursue coaching opportunities with the World Fighters Inc. owned by Dick and Ray Marconi.
Chuck is an icon in the boxing world and was easily identified by the photos he stuck on his bald head and his one-of-a-kind glasses that he decorated himself. He has been in the corner with over 60 champions, including Muhammad Ali, Tommy Hearns, Oscar de la Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield and Azumah Nelson.
His room at the new location is large and cheerful. Many boxing mementos, accumulated as a boxer, trainer, and cutman are displayed all over the room. Various framed handmade collages, awards, plaques, greeting cards, and photos of friends and family adorn his walls and shelves. It is obvious that Chuck has touched the lives of many people throughout the years. He has a work table set up with overhead lights, magnifying glasses, and boxes of stones, trinkets, and photos that he uses to decoupage watches, caps, and rings. He likes to give them away as gifts. The recent stroke has not deterred his favorite hobby. He’s enlisted a fellow housemate to cut the photos, as his left hand is still affected by the stroke.
A unique individual, he comes off as a curmudgeonly old-timer with salty one-liners. But underneath this crusty exterior, you know there is a kind soul. Anyone who’s ever had the opportunity to meet Chuck is aware of his generosity. I’ve known him for ten years now and I’ve witnessed him signing autographs for hours and also giving out his prized pieces of handcrafted jewelry. I’ve seen him give a lucky buck to small children he has just met and I’ve also seen him slip money to proud, fallen ex-champs, certainly in need of a helping hand.
His contradictory mix of toughness and kindness is what has made him stand out to anybody who has crossed his path. Perhaps this is because he had a hardscrabble youth and is grateful that he managed to carve out many successful career paths along the way. He is a survivor and arguably has built a lasting legacy in boxing.
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME A CUTMAN?
After my amateur career, rather than turning pro, I decided to go into teaching boxing. I prefer calling myself a boxing teacher, not a “trainer.” You teach boxers, you don’t train them…you train animals! Then I became a self-taught cutman. When you love something, like I love boxing, you enjoy being around it all the time. I loved being a cutman and and teacher and sharing my knowledge and experience with young boxers. I actually liked being a boxing teacher more than I liked being a boxer. I enjoyed being able to help others. I do miss being in the ring. Watching boxing matches on TV is not the same as working with them in the corner and getting to know the fighters while seeing them progress and grow.
WHAT GENERAL TRAINING ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO BOXERS?
Try to run every day or take one day off if you have to. Run five miles or more. Your body will tell you when to quit. For young boxers, my advice is to listen to your teachers and stay in shape!
DESCRIBE YOUR OWN BOXING CAREER.
I was always into sports and even competed in hurdles and pole vault while in high school. My neighborhood was active in all kinds of sports and a buddy of mine, Peter Lello, inspired me to fight. I was a “boxer” style fighter and fought for 13 years. I worked with Mickey Dudak of Gary, Indiana.
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FIGHTER OF ALL TIME?
I like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Tommy Hearns. I liked Joe Louis because he wasn’t egotistical. But my favorite fighter? There is only one choice: Muhammad Ali. I worked with Ali in the amateurs, in the Chicago Tribune’s Golden Gloves Tournament. He really is one of the greatest human beings of all time. No one in any sport compares to him. Ali is exceptional. His fight with George Foreman in Africa is one of my favorites. I never doubted that Ali would win.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST CREATE YOUR TRADEMARK COLLAGES?
I’ve been doing this for years. I made one for some kids and I presented it to them. That was the first time I made a collage. I never, ever sell them! I only give them away as gifts.
WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE YOUR LONGEVITY TO?
I have a tough mental aspect and the “big guy upstairs” takes care of me.
Chuck’s longevity is evident as he never officially retired. He went back to his roots, working with young, amateur fighters right up until the time of his stroke.
As the football game ended, with a lopsided score of 49-17 for USC, my visit with Chuck was coming to a close. He had told me over and over during my visit to go pick out a watch that he wanted to decorate for me. Apparently, I didn’t move as fast as he liked, so he finally barked out in a loud, commanding voice (that took me by surprise), to pick out a watch “now”! When Chuck tells you to do something, you do it! I laughed and couldn’t help but see the no-nonsense taskmaster that he must have been decades ago. I looked in several plastic bins holding all of his treasures and I picked out a watch with a photo of Chuck and actor Antonio Banderas on the face of it. Chuck had a role in the 1999 film “Play It To the Bone,” starring the Spanish actor.
Just one more chapter in the long and colorful life of Chuck Bodak.
-Update for JANUARY 2009-
If you’d like to send a card or letter to Chuck:
Vasil “Chuck” Bodak
B & B Country Manor IV
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Special thanks to the Marconi family.
Photos courtesy of Michele Chong: Chuck Bodak at a 2007 fight; Receiving his award at the WBC ceremony; With Dick Marconi, Bob Bodak and beauty queens; Prized collages handmade by Bodak.