FEATURE: Bishop McNamara’s Jaelyn Vickery finding unprecedented boxing success
Jaelyn Vickery never met her late great-grandfather, Red Vickery, but she’s heard stories of the railroad worker and local boxing legend.
Red, who boxed professionally from 1926-30, according to professional boxing database BoxRec, was a feisty middleweight with a lightning-fast left hook and and a motor that didn’t quit.
“One of the things my dad told me was he was that he would give a punch to take a punch,” Vickery, a senior at Bishop McNamara said. “He worked on the railroad and was just a tough man with tons of grit.
“He was a very loving man, but you just didn’t mess with him.”
After his professional career ended, Red began training young fighters in the Kankakee area, and in 1951, one of those young fighters who encountered Red was then-teenager David “Chief” Gerard, who has spent the past 40 years of his own life training hundreds of boxers out of the gym in the unattached garage of his home, Gold Star Gym.
In October, Jaelyn became the first woman to train at Gold Star. After hearing the tales of Red’s past and making the trip last April to watch family friend Brian Coash — also known by Vickery as “Uncle Arms” — win the 2018 Chicago Golden Gloves Master Open Super Heavyweight championship, Vickery said boxing offered her a challenge she had yet to encounter in her athletic career.
“I had heard there were no girls, and they said a lot of guys quit after two weeks just because the training is so mentally and physically taxing,” Vickery said. “I like to be challenged in everything I do, so this was a new challenge, and I wanted to try and overcome it.”
Gerard said he knew Vickery was meant for the sport the second she walked through the door for her first day of training, and it didn’t take long for her to remind him of Red.
“She’s got that Vickery in her; I can see it in her eye,” Gerard said. “She’s real serious; she wants to get in there and go, and she goes hard.
“It brought back old memories of when he would give me a good whipping.”
While Vickery made it through those first two weeks, as taxing as they were, she encountered a new challenge when she took a trip to Chicago for her first live sparring sessions against other women.
Rather than younger women like herself, Vickery faced some stout and mature competition in those sessions.
“When you’re throwing on the bag, you just feel good throwing punches, but it’s completely different when you get in the ring,” Vickery said. “I was sparring with ranked, 30-year-old women, so I just had to go in there and give it my all.
“Once you get that first punch thrown at you, you’ve just got to focus, no matter who’s in the ring.”
Vickery has the opportunity to showcase her quickly developing skills Thursday, when she competes in the 2019 Chicago Golden Gloves Women’s 160-pound Junior Novice Championship against Leilani Diaz at Cicero Stadium in Cicero.
“I can’t wait to see her get in there and go because I know what she’s going to do,” Gerard said of his newest protege. “You can’t win here; you’ve got to wait until you’re there, but I have a lot of confidence in her.”
The training leading up to Thursday’s fight has further cramped what is already a busy spring for the returning Daily Journal All-Area softball star.
The University of Illinois commit said the clustered schedule and various training regimens have improved her skills on the field.
“It’s helped me think more quickly, and it’s helped me on the field with my power and conditioning,” Vickery said. “I was already quick in the past and had plenty of power, but with throwing those punches and always moving my body, my legs got in better shape.”
Gerard has made time to catch some of Vickery’s softball games and said she’s the same way on the diamond as she is in the ring — fiercely competitive.
“It’s competition, too,” Gerard said. “I’ve gone and seen her in softball, and she plays softball hard, too, just like she does with boxing.”
Gerard has seen what’s made Vickery such a standout softball player, and Vickery has gotten to see what has allowed Gerard and his pupils to have success in the ring the past 40 years.
“I think it’s definitely the way he pushes them, down to the last 30 seconds when you have to give it all you’ve got,” Vickery said. “It’s just mind over matter, and any coach wants to say that to their kids, but Chief really pushes us to actually incorporate that into our minds and apply that.”
During the process of picking up her new sport, Vickery has been cautiously supported by McNamara softball coach Laura Harms and her future coach, Illinois head coach Tyra Perry. Her Irish teammates are taking a bus to her bout on Thursday to show their support as well.
At Gold Star, the first woman boxer in area history has been showered with love and support from the likes of Gerard, Coach, trainer Calvin Zirkle and sparring partner Jesus “Butterbean” Martinez, as she attempts to add her name to the Gold Star list of champions Thursday.
“It’s been great, the support coming in here, because I was nervous when I first came,” Vickery said. “I wondered how the guys would take it, but everyone has been so supportive and helped me out.”