Jason Quirk was jumping rope, warming up for the fight that would put him in the next night’s final of the New England Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament when his cellphone sounded. Someone wanted to talk with him.
Quirk, a Scarborough High graduate, Coast Guard veteran and Portland Boxing Club fighter, expected a call. Just not at that particular moment, 45 minutes before he was due in the ring at the venerable Lowell Auditorium in Massachusetts before a lively crowd.
He might have let the call go to voice mail. Instead he looked at the phone number of the caller and had no choice but to answer. Hello?
“It was the chief of the fire department offering me a conditional position provided I pass the physical and drug test,” said Quirk, 24.
That would be the chief of Portland’s fire department and the position was firefighter.
Quirk said his thank-you’s and goodbye. He tried to get his mind back to the task at hand.
Less than an hour later the ring referee held Quirk’s arm aloft to applause from the crowd.
He won that fight Feb. 25 beating a cadet from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.
The next night Quirk won the New England title, taking a split decision from his opponent.
“I turned it into a tougher fight,” Quirk said after Wednesday’s classes in fire science at Southern Maine Community College. “I had been thinking of that phone call. It was my fault.”
It’s not often a passion and a very different dream collide within 24 hours.
Quirk walked into the Portland Boxing Club for the first time when he was 15. He was a starter on the Scarborough High football and hockey teams. He was an avid skier, too.
He wanted to test himself in a way the other sports didn’t. The commitment to boxing has stretched to nine years. That he might someday be world champion wasn’t part of the commitment.
Quirk would look at his Portland Boxing Club teammates. Russell Lamour has won a national championship at his weight class. Jorge Abiague has. Lisa Kuronya and Liz Leddy have. “They’re the best of the best at the Portland Boxing Club,” said Quirk. He wanted to be one of them.
The feeling was mutual. Lamour, now a pro but also a middleweight, sparred with Quirk in the PBC ring. “(Lamour) was whipping my butt and that was good for me.”
Abiague, about 40 pounds lighter, watched and offered advice. You may think boxing is the ultimate individual sport but Quirk argues otherwise. Yes, it’s his hand that’s raised in victory, but Lamour, Abiague and the other PBC fighters helped. They are his teammates.
Last week, before his fight for the New England Golden Gloves title started, Bob Russo was in Quirk’s ear. Russo founded the PBC and is its heart and soul, besides being the head trainer, manager, fundraiser, coach and whatever other title fits.
“He said, I win this fight and it will be the first line of my obituary.” That should be a long way but Quirk understood the message. He won the close fight and sweated out the long seconds, waiting to hear the verdict of the five judges.
“There is nothing like having your hand raised in the ring that night. Nothing. It’s the best feeling.”
Football is behind him. He hasn’t laced up his hockey skates in a while. He hasn’t skied. “I’m too afraid I’ll get hurt and won’t be able to fight.”
The national Golden Gloves tournament will be in Las Vegas in early May and Quirk already knows he can’t go. He took his physical and did the drug testing Wednesday. The Coast Guard reservist expects to pass and claim the job he wants most. His training to be a firefighter will conflict with his fights in a Las Vegas ring.
“My (boxing) career will not end. I know I can get back to the (national tournament). There’s always next year.”
He couldn’t turn down the opportunity to serve and protect Portland. He didn’t know when or if it would be offered again.
He’ll have his hand raised again. One way or another.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: