Boxing icon Howard Davis Jr. is no stranger to taking on tough challenges. But now, the Olympic gold medalist and Glen Cove native is in the biggest fight of his life—against stage-four lung cancer. Davis was diagnosed in February, on the week of his 59th birthday, and was surprised by the news.
“It was a complete shocker,” said Davis. “I ate a good diet, never smoked, never drank and have never done drugs. It was tough news, but my fighting spirit soon came into play.”
Davis said he tried the traditional chemotherapy route first, but after two treatments, had enough.
“I felt like I was dying,” he said. “It made me feel sick and I was bedridden for a week and a half, then would have to go back for more.”
He said that after the doctor told his wife that he only had a year to live with the chemo treatments, they found a new doctor who specializes in alternative cancer treatments. Now, he says, with maximum-tolerated dose chemotherapy once a week, combined with vitamin therapy, nutritional and other therapeutic interventions, his hemoglobin levels are up and stabilized. Many of these non-traditional therapies aren’t covered by insurance.
All in all, he spends five days a week at the doctor’s office in Boca Raton, FL, an hour-long drive from his home in Fort Lauderdale.
“My tumor has shrunk considerably because of it and I am so grateful,” said Davis, noting that the current treatment method does not leave him feeling as sick and weak.
Davis recently established the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation (www.howarddavisjrfoundation.org) as a source for educating, financing and encouraging others to “get into the ring and clobber cancer,” the alternative way. The foundation is holding a comedy fundraiser next week, on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at The Space in Westbury. He will be returning to Glen Cove the day before to visit the mural named after him and his father.
Davis, who was born and raised in Glen Cove, has lived in Florida since 2003. He lived in New Jersey for more than 20 years before heading south. He has been inducted into the New York and New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and New York Golden Gloves Hall of Fame.
He and his wife, Karla Guadamuz-Davis, run Fight Time Promotions, which promotes MMA shows and is now in its 26th year. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter, the youngest of Davis’ 13 children.
Davis famously won the Olympic gold medal in boxing during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. His mother died young, at 37, three days before his first Olympic fight, leaving behind 10 children, Davis the oldest at 20, and his youngest sister only 2. He said his first impulse was to go home upon hearing the news, but then he remembered the last words she spoke to him before he left.
“She said to me, ‘You’d better bring home that gold.’ It resonated with me, so I stayed,” he said. “I won it for her.”
His father—who was also his trainer—surprised him at the fight.
“He told me he couldn’t be there, but would be there in spirit,” Davis reflected. “Then, in the middle of the fight, above the sounds of the bells and the crowd of 10,000 people, I heard his voice: ‘John-John, I’m here.’ I laughed so hard after the fight, thinking that I could recognize that one voice above everything else.”
His father, who died several years ago from complications with diabetes, was a huge influence on Davis.
“My father was my first idol,” said Davis. “I never heard him curse, he never said a bad word about anybody…he was a pillar of the community. I was very privileged to have a mother and father who treated us with dignity.”
Davis shared a story about a time when a young man they knew had gotten involved in drugs. He said his father made the man stay at the house for three days, until he got clean. He noticed the transformation of the young man, who was first angry, then grateful.
“It left an impression on me,” said Davis.
Though his father was already a boxing trainer with more than a half dozen Golden Gloves champions under his wing, Davis didn’t get into the sport until after seeing the movie A.k.a. Cassius Clay at age 15.
“The next morning I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and went for a three-mile run,” he said.
He made it his new regimen, running in the morning, walking two miles to school and then heading to the gym to train after school.
“The first time I was too tired to get up one morning, I went to the gym after school, as usual. I walked in, and my father was there with seven or eight Golden Gloves champions,” said Davis. “He left, but these guys all started yelling at me, ‘If you want to be a fighter, you don’t miss a day.’ That was a great lesson for me.”
Davis added, “He was a brilliant trainer. He was a man of few words, but he always made his point.”
The comedy show fundraiser on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at the The Space, begins at 8 p.m. and will include hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, an appearance by Miss New York in addition to the comedy of Isaac’s and Baker (Scott Baker was trained by Howard Davis Sr.). Plus, they will be auctioning off Davis’ boxing gloves, signed by Davis.
“We want to help as many people as we can,” said Davis.
Tickets are $60 and advanced purchases are highly recommended by going to www.howarddavisjr