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Wildes hits the ring to release some stress

By Eduardo Gonzalez
On December 4, 2008

When the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., took his vows to become a Jesuit, he dedicated himself to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience — but nobody ever said anything about boxing.

The 53-year-old Loyola president has been in the gym since he was 19, and with a 52-2 amateur record Wildes is the real deal.

The stress of running a  university can be very taxing — not to mention the stresses that come in the busy life of a priest. Some priests tend gardens or birdwatch, but Wildes prefers to blow off steam on the punching bag.

"I think that everyone needs to find something that helps them relax," he said.

Growing up in New Jersey, Wildes attended Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, the hometown of Rocky Balboa. After learning the history of the sport from a boxing friend, Wildes started down a path that would lead to a lifelong passion. "After we talked that first time, I started going to the gym," Wildes said. "I took boxing very seriously."

Boxing is his medicine and something he does religiously. His father golfed — an interest Wildes said he could never develop — for a similar purpose.

"He would focus on hitting that ball and the rest of the world would disappear. Not me. I can't golf. I'm a wreck," he said. Wildes enjoys boxing because it eliminates his surroundings and lets him focus on his opponent.

The great Muhammad Ali remains Wildes' favorite boxer. "I like Ali not only for his stand of opposing the Vietnam War, but as a person too. He paid a dear price for that, and to me that makes him a great human being," Wildes said.

When Wildes moves to a new town, finding a good gym is one of the first orders of business. Three days a week he goes to Freret Street Gym to practice footwork and hit the bag, and he spars on at least one of those days. "Wherever I live, I find a place to work out and do some sparring," he said.

Ravi Varma, mass communication sophomore, started boxing at the same gym  earlier this year. Although he was surprised the first time he saw Wildes there, he said he admires him for it.

"I started boxing because I knew it would be challenging both mentally and physically," Varma said. "The fact that our school's president boxes says a lot about his character."

"But, I wouldn't normally associate a sport like that with a Jesuit priest."

Wildes' love for the sport led him  to conduct research for the Institute for Sports Medicine, where he found amateur boxing to be one of the safest sports. Boxers have to wear headgear, the fights are highly regulated, and the rounds only last three minute. In    addition to all these regulations, amateurs are matched up by weight and experience, he said.

 "One of the reasons I like boxing so much is because you have to pay attention. Your total focus has to be on what you're doing, otherwise, you're going to get hurt,"  Wildes said.

Wildes also spends time in the Loyola University Sports Complex where he does a weight-lifting routine. He said he likes the opportunity to interact with the students.

"Going there humanizes me and helps to put the   students at ease when they see me," he said.

 "I think it's hysterical. It's awesome. You wouldn't expect it, but I think it's great," said Colin Gregory, history junior. As for challenging him to a fight, he said, "I would never   challenge him because I heard he once busted the lip of a student in Georgetown who challenged him."

But Wildes has one tip for any potential challengers: "My style is inside."

Eduardo Gonzalez can be reached at

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