Pubdate: Tue, 11 Apr 2000
Source: Castlegar Sun, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2000 The Castlegar Sun
Author: John Morton


In 97 professional fights against the likes of George Foreman and Mohammed
Ali, heavyweight boxer George Chuvalo was never knocked out, never even
knocked down, a record that ranks him among the grittiest boxers in the
sport's history.

Yet this record of endurance pales next to the emotional beatings he
survived after retiring in 1979, when, over the next 16 years, one
drug-addicted son shot himself, two sons died of heroin overdoses and his
wife committed suicide.

Not only is Chuvalo still standing, he's still travelling the country, only
this time his fight is against drug use. He spoke Thursday morning to
students at J.L. Crowe and Thursday afternoon to students at Stanley

The SHSS gym bleachers were full and half the floor covered by Grade 7-9
students at the Castlegar presentation, which opened with a 28-minute
episode of The Fifth Estate in which Chuvalo's sons Mitchell and Steven
talk about being the children of a pro boxer.

Mitchell says it was humiliating and frightening to watch their dad take a
beating in the ring and he relates stories of the boys being constantly
teased and challenged to fights, but neither son blames their father for
what happened.

"I always had this sense of being worthless; where it comes from, I don't
know, but I've had it for years," Steven says in the video.

The youngest son, Jesse, was a fragile boy who always seemed angry. When
nobody seemed able to help him, he turned to heroin for solace. It didn't
help either and when he was 20, Jesse walked into the bedroom of the family
home and shot himself.

"It was like everything you breathe in was grief," George Chuvalo says.
"Whatever you exhaled was, you know, whatever it is, but you're inhaling
grief, you swallow it, you're swollen up with it. You just can't believe
that your son is dead; you just can't believe that your son has died."

Steven and another son, George Lee, also became addicted to heroin. "I
basically stuck a needle in my arm and never took it out," Steven says.

They overdosed many times and both went to jail for robbing a drug store.
Steve survived a stabbing; George Lee tried to kill himself by slitting his
wrists and a week after being released from prison he was dead in a hotel
room with a needle in his arm.

Two days after his funeral, Lynne Chuvalo, the boxer's wife of 33 years,
committed suicide.

Steven Chuvalo was 35 years old and in jail when The Fifth Estate
interviewed him. He said he intended to travel the country with his father
warning kids about drugs when he got out.

Instead, he picked up a cheque for $10,000 form a Workers' Compensation
claim and bought heroin. He died five days later in a hotel room, an unlit
cigarette in his hand and only $5 in his pocket.

"From the time he injected the heroin into his arm until he pulled the
cigarette out, he was dead before he had time to light it," Chuvalo told
students at J.L. Crowe.

The former Canadian heavyweight boxing champion urged students to think
about the consequences of the choices they make because some of their
decisions could turn out to be deadly.

"For instance, with all the things you know about smoking today, why would
you ever put a cigarette in your mouth? If a label on a can of tomato soups
said, `Eating this soup will cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks,'
you'd never eat it.

"I'm not saying smoking leads to taking drugs, but if you smoke, you
disrespect yourself. And once you disrespect yourself in one area, it is
easy to go on."

Chuvalo's tour of local schools was sponsored by the Castlegar Kiwanis
Club, the Trail Kiwanis Club in partnership with School District 20, the
Trail RCMP Crime prevention Unit and Canadian Airlines.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst