After opening the glass door to the Two Rivers Boxing gym in West Quesnel, a visitor, even one who has no prior knowledge of boxing, can tell the club is steeped in history.
While two walls are made of glass, the other two are pasted with hundreds of newspaper articles and pictures lauding the achievements of the venerated club and its fighters; who have put everything on the line to impress their coaches, family, friends and themselves.
On any given day, a rotating cast of characters from many walks of life can be found working on perfecting a punch or getting their fitness levels up, or simply connecting with friends who share a love of the sweet science.
Over the last year or so, one character who has stood out is assistant coach Cam Tetrault.
Tetrault is a barrel-chested, bushy-bearded old school B.C. man who smiles with his eyes and uses phrases like, ‘Aw geez,’ when asked to talk about himself.
He has won the respect and friendship of many of the older regulars and the admiration of the younger boxers, who he dotes on kindly but firmly.
When thinking of a word to describe him, many would probably offer ‘solid.’ Which Tetrault would appreciate, considering his world and sense of self all but crumbled twelve years ago when he came back from a tour in Afghanistan.
Although he doesn’t have a bad word to say about the military, he says his time serving with them was a transitional point in his life.
“I worked really hard in my career to have this opportunity to go overseas,” he says, likening basic training to boxing. “You train and you train for your fight and it’s what you’re working up for. A tour is kind of the same thing. You work really hard on your technical skills, your camaraderie and your skills as a unit and then you go over there and you’re actually able to apply them in real life, like you would in the ring.”
Tetrault points out he was a young, somewhat innocent man when he went on his tour, so was bombarded with many life lessons about himself as well as the world.
“I’ve always had a sense I wanted to help,” he says of his reasons for joining the Canadian Forces. “But when you go into a certain place where people don’t want your help, it kind of makes it hard to live up to your expectations of yourself.”
The work was difficult as he was based in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and a hotbed of Taliban activity at the time.
Although he was proud to be a soldier, he couldn’t help but question what he was doing at times.
“It rocked me as a person,” he says. “When I came back I definitely wasn’t the same person as when I left.”
Over the seven and a half months of being overseas, he says he saw a vast physical and mental change within himself.
“I came back and I didn’t move back in with my wife,” he admits. “I had to move in with my brother because I knew I wasn’t sleeping and I wasn’t well.”
Since he didn’t want to lose his job, he tried to hide his condition but the attempt was fruitless. He ended up losing his job and was forcibly retired, medically released and told to stay home.
He says dealing with his PTSD has been a long journey, and many terrible days have passed.
Tetrault talks of his mind and body being affected to their core.
“Even when I don’t remember something horrible, my body does,” he says. “For example, my birthday’s a hard one. There was an incident that happened overseas on my birthday, so I actually really struggle hard on the day. Same goes for Remembrance Day. There are a few times where I forget the date [that something tragic happened] but my body doesn’t. I’m like, why am I feeling like this and why am I doing this and then it affects me mentally.”
On the bright side, Tetrault’s two sons Caleb and Elias were born on the road to recovery and he embraced being a stay-at-home dad in Sooke on Vancouver Island.
Tending to a few chickens and raising a young family filled Tetrault’s days as his wife, Cheri, commuted to Victoria for work.
While they were able to manage, the couple wanted a change.
“I wanted to be a lot more rural and she needed some amenities,” he says and after much research Quesnel was chosen as a place to settle in the summer of 2017.
His wife went back to school for nursing, “It worked out well for her, as she was able to get work around here and this way we’re close to a hospital,” and Tetrault took up farming, a profession he had little background in but embraced whole-heartedly.
“I knew I needed something that was going to pay the bills,” he says. “And I knew there was a cash crop on the land we bought, so there was no point in wasting it.”
While the learning curve has been steep, his first season this summer was successful and he managed to take about 95 per cent of the hay off of his field using an old swather and baler from the 1960s.
“I learned as much as I could, as fast as I could, as safely as I could,” he says, chuckling, adding he received a lot of help from his neighbours, a community he is proud to call his own.
“It was a lot of hard work and a lot of perseverance, which is one thing the military teaches you; just to dig deep and keep on going. I broke down every day but I had a lot of friends that said, ‘Oh, you broke an axle, let me weld it for you.’”
Tetrault jokes about needing to be a mechanic and a biologist just to get by every day.
His thrice weekly trips to Two Rivers Boxing are a huge help in keeping him balanced too.
“I’ve always had a passion for boxing,” he says, “My grandfather boxed as well, so it always intrigued me.”
“When I saw there was a need for coaching [at Two Rivers] I knew I had the skill set and qualifications; so I threw it out to Wally that if he needed help, I’d be there for him. He graciously accepted and he’s been building me up, so I can build other people up.”
Head coach and owner of Two Rivers, Wally Doern, says it was a no-brainer bringing him on.
“I knew that because he had taken the level one [boxing] coaching course that I could use him and use him a lot,” he says.
“To be a good coach you have to be on time, you have to be reliable and you have to know how to get along and relate to both young and old. Obviously Cameron, with a young family, knows how to relate to young people and being in the services, knows how to relate to older people too, so he fit right in.”
Doern adds that Tetrault brings good morals, a decent skill level and optimism.
“He’s always willing to learn new things and passes them along to others in a positive way that gives them a good feeling where they want to learn more.”
Most importantly to Doern, Tetrault has embraced the club’s mantra that the kids are the future.
“He’s learned to develop the younger kids and at the same time maintain a certain amount of discipline.”
For Tetrault, he is finally able to provide help to those who really want it and it shows in his demeanour every time he’s in the club.
Even though he was performing back breaking labour during his first year on a farm, he would practically (and sometimes literally) skip into the gym and have a kind word, a nugget of advice or some much needed encouragement for anyone in need.
“It gave me a purpose to be able to walk in the club and be excited to participate,” he says, “It really helped me with my PTSD to be accepted and it’s motivating to be there. I can look at other people when I’m not feeling good and they’re motivated and that excites me. I know they came in to do their best, so I should do my best as well, so we feed off each other. I’m always working on myself and they’re always working on themselves. It’s exciting!”
He speaks with great enthusiasm on the release that boxing provides.
“You feel energized when you finish a workout and you’re thinking positive. You may be a little bit sore but you think to yourself, ‘I accomplished something.’”
One of the most special things for Tetrault has been watching his son Caleb, who is 10-years-old, embrace the sport too. He has fought a number of exhibition matches, some of which have drawn high praise from regional boxing fans.
“I admire Caleb,” he says, “At the last Pro-AM [in Williams Lake] there was quite a big crowd and it didn’t phase him. He and his opponent [former Two Rivers boxer Rylan Maurice] fought very well. Very technical and very fast paced for ten-year-olds.”
“It’s been great to see Caleb progress the way he has.” Tetrault continues, “I’m excited because I’m able to help him and be a part of it and that’s something which is one of my core values — to be there for my children and be able to guide them the way that I think they should be guided.”
He adds boxing is perfect for instilling many values.
“It’s able to tell him when it’s OK to fight and when it’s not OK to fight, how to control his emotions and just overall respect.”
Tetrault’s fellow assistant coach, James Mott, says Caleb isn’t the only one who has grown since the pair have started at Two Rivers.
“When Cameron started out, he didn’t have all the knowledge he has now. Since he’s come here, he been studying all the information out there about boxing and has become a real professional in my mind,” he says.
Mott adds Tetrault really cares.
“He cares about how hard you try, he cares about you learning. He wants you to do your best and not get discouraged, so he’s always encouraging others with a pat on the back and a ‘way to go.’”
The praise heaped upon him by his peers would garner many an, ‘aw shucks’ from Tetrault and he is overcome by gratitude when talking about all the gym and the community has provided.
“I appreciate everyone that’s helped me out and I appreciate Wally giving me the opportunity to help him. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to help other people and mold their lives.”
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