Almost every inch of Joe Borden’s basement is covered with memorabilia, all from his past as a champion boxer.
But the New Glasgow native is more than a fighter, known to many throughout P.E.I. as a respected youth worker, trainer and volunteer.
On tables sit medals, framed photos and hard copies of accolades from the likes of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and current and past P.E.I. lieutenant governors and politicians; the most recent of which being the Queen's Jubilee Medal.
But, true to his character, these are not the things Joe holds dear. It’s the stories of those who he’s helped, whose lives he has helped change, that he counts among his most prized possessions.
One person who credits Joe with much of his success is Brett Gallant, someone the trainer said has worked hard to get where he is today.
The 24-year-old enforcer with the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers recently signed a one-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s New York Islanders.
Among the first people he called with the news was Joe Borden.
“Joe has helped me get to where I am and helped me reach my goals,” said the Summerside native. “Joe has been an unbelievable friend to me. I can call Joe with anything, with any problems I have. He's just always there for me and everyone else.”
It was at the Summerside Youth Centre where a young Gallant, still in his early teens and playing midget hockey, started training with Joe. Joe worked at the centre and introduced boxing to not only the youth who were incarcerated, but to youngsters like Gallant.
“I've been with him since I started midget hockey right into junior and now pro,” said Gallant. “He's been there everyday I needed him.”
He admitted that the Summerside Western Capitals strength and conditioning coach can be tough. But Gallant said Joe's desire for excellence and giving one's all in training masks the true man that he is, someone with a big heart.
The third oldest of 13 children, born to Catherine and Lester Borden in New Glasgow, N.S., Joe began boxing at age 14 after taking a job with well known trainer Sparky Paris.
As he became a better boxer, and after Paris retired, Joe would sign on with promoter Wayne Sponagle.
The next 15 years were spent as a pro boxer, with Joe fighting the likes of Olympic gold medal winner Michael Spinks and countless others in rings across eastern Canada, Boston and Brockton, Mass.
He would have an impressive career in the sport, with 61 fights, 46 of which he won, was Maritime Light Heavyweight Champion, Eastern Canadian Light Heavyweight Champion and, from 1971 to '78, the No. 1 ranked light heavyweight boxer in Canada.
Joe can still recall his first-ever win in the ring.
“It was a four-round fight. The thing I remember most about it was that I made $40, two $20 bills. I remember that as plain as day. I kept thinking to myself, wow. I went home and gave Mom half,” he added.
“After every pro fight I would give her money, every one of them.”
While in his teens, when he would fight men twice his age on the weekends, Joe attended school, eventually dropping out in Grade 11, played hockey and worked.
An all-star player on the ice, Joe played defence in the Metro Valley Junior League, now the Maritime Hockey League, and was known as tough guy, an enforcer, much like his prodigy, Gallant.
“If I had to drop the gloves I would drop them. It didn't bother me,” Joe said with a laugh. He played with the New Glasgow Bombers and the Amherst Ramblers.
Between the wins within the ropes also came loses, 12 in total. One of the most memorable on June 1, 1977, to Spinks, who won his gold medal the previous year. Although Joltin' Joe would out-box Spinks in the first round and held his own at the start of the second, he wouldn't see a third round.
“It was brutal,” recalled Joe. “I got knocked down three times in the second round.”
He would finish his boxing career on a high note, with a pair of impressive wins over Arnie Murphy on Aug. 24, 1984, and Gary MacDonald on Sept. 1 of that year.
With his boxing career behind him and his GED complete, Joe moved onto his next chapter in life.
Now living on P.E.I., he enrolled in Holland College, where he completed the youth worker program.
“That's when I got into working with kids. When I first moved here in 1982 there was no boxing club so I started the first boxing club in Charlottetown. It was called the Charlottetown Amateur Boxing Club,” he recalled. “That club went on to big things. I had three Canadian champions out of that club. I had nine Golden Glove champions and six Atlantic champions.”
Joe would end up moving to Summerside with his wife, Claire, where he would raise a family, work at the youth correctional centre and continue to teach boxing.
When asked what makes him a good trainer, he said, “I make them work hard. No doubt about it.”
It's something Mixed Martial Arts fighter Richard Arsenault can attest to.
“Not only is Joe an outstanding boxing coach, he also sets a great example for those around him,” said Arsenault. “I've made many mistakes over the years but Joe has always seen the best in me and encouraged me to strive to be my best. I would not have been able to keep my title for as long as I have without his encouragement, motivation, drive and friendship.”
Arsenault, who holds the Elite 1 MMA's welterweight title, first met Joe as a kid and spent the last three years training with the former boxer.
“I've watched him over the years selflessly helping so many people. It is truly an honour to call Joe a friend and a mentor,” he said. “He has improved my stand up, increased my speed with my hands and just made me an all-around better competitor.”
While Joe has taught Arsenault to be a better fighter and competitor, Arsenault said his mentor has also taught him to be a better man.
“Joe has given me lots of great advice over the years but much more than that he has showed me by example. God bless him. The world is a much better place with him in it.”
Not all those Joe has helped over the years have gone on to win titles or achieve success in sport.
Some, like those he worked with inside the walls of the youth centre, are now living drug- and crime-free lives thanks, in part, to Joe's leadership and help.
Its these individuals, many who Joe still keeps in contact with, who are among those he is most proud, true fighters, as he called them.
“I wanted to pass on to kids what the older gentlemen in New Glasgow passed on to me – respect,” said Joe. “Even today I find no matter who I am talking to, especially older people, it is yes sir, yes mam. That was drilled into me.”
For almost a decade now, Joe has worked with the Capitals, during which time the junior hockey club has won the Kent and Fred Page cups.
He retired from a 25-year career as a youth worker in October and there have been rumours that this will be his last year with the ‘Caps,’ something he would neither confirm nor deny. Although, he admitted with a laugh, that winning the RBC Cup, which is being hosted by the team this May, would be a nice way to end his career with the MHL squad.
Nancy MacPhee - TC MEDIA