The power of prayer amazes famed boxer Micky Ward. Actor Mark Wahlberg portrays him in The Fighter, a Paramount movie being filmed in Lowell. Christian Bale plays his brother, Dickie Eklund. Separately from the movie's scriptwriters, sports anchor Bob Halloran of Milton wrote a biography, Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward.
Nobody is more surprised than Ward. A decade ago he was raking hot tar on highways and fighting at the Wonderland Dog Track for $400. Ward isn't a churchgoer, but he said it all turned around the very first time he prayed.
Talking about religion makes him uneasy because "people kinda look at you like you're crazy," he said. Yet The Golden Rule was something he heard as a child and always believed.
"It's funny. I always felt that if I did the right thing, that if I trained hard and worked hard, I'd be rewarded somehow," said the 43-year old whose family was Catholic by label only.
Rewards seemed certain given his natural talent in the ring. Born in 1965 Ward grew up on Lowell's rough streets and made a name for himself as a boxer. By 1985 Ward was a three-time Golden Gloves junior welterweight with a 14-0 record. Known for withstanding horrific punishment in the ring, he could knock out an opponent out in the later rounds with a devastating left hook.
"Drinking, drugs, it's hard to be a fighter. You can't be involved in that. It's like gasoline and fire. The temptation to do drugs and to drink a lot is always right there. It's the obstacle to being an athlete," said Ward.
His career took a nosedive because of the greed, manipulation and addiction of those close to him. By 1990 Ward gave up professional boxing for three years and barely survived as a street paver. He was scraping the bottom of his life when he returned to boxing in 1994.
"It was the final straw. Nothing was working. I started going out and drinking, staying out but I knew I could be better than that. I knew I had to change something. Desperation made me pray," he recalled.
In 1997, for the first time, he asked God for something. Ward still believed he could be a great boxer. But if he was meant to stay in the business then please show him the way. He'd do his part by living a clean life and following the Golden Rule. This was his prayer.
In 2002 he made his comeback. Micky "Irish" Ward won against Arturo "Thunder" Gatti in the first of three non-stop action matches, and which the boxing industry called "The Fight of the Century." Though Gatti prevailed in the last two fights, the trilogy remains legendary in boxing history. Ward believes his first, conscious prayer put it into motion.
"It was six years to the day, in 2002. I believe it was because I stuck with it -- I always did the right thing and didn't do anything bad -- that I got a one million dollar fight with Gatti," he recalled.
But six years was a long time to wait for God's answer. Did he have doubts?
"Six years waiting was my testing. In those six years, there were lots of ups and downs, but I kept the faith. It's so easy to quit than it is to stick with it and grind through. But I did the right thing and I believe he rewarded me for being strong," said Ward.
What exactly is the "right thing?"
"Emotional hurt, you gotta let that go. You can't hold onto it. Walk away and let it be. Don't let it bring you down. So many highs and lows, but if you keep being down, you'll never get up. Stay positive, be mentally strong. Don't give into temptation. In some instances, it's about staying away. Make a choice and stick to it, whatever it is. Forgiveness, you may never forget, but you have to forgive or it will burn inside of you. It will drain you and drain you. Keep thinking about it and it will bring you down more than anything. You have to be nice in some way. You give to get. Whether it's helping someone or training a kid, I believe you will be rewarded in some way."
Today Ward is a Teamster driver for movie sets and still trains boxers in Chelmsford. He's proud of his Team Micky Ward Charities Foundation, a non-profit organization.
"We gave over a quarter million dollars in the last two years. We try to assist people to make kids' lives better," said Ward. He has a daughter, is married to wife Charlene and the pain has healed between Ward and his half-brother and former manager, Dickie Eklund who battles drug addiction.
"My relationship with my brother is good now. There were a lot of things that happened for reasons I don't know. You argue with family, it happens in every family. On my end, it was more blown up because of boxing and a lot of money was involved. But he's my brother and I love him and that part is over," said Ward.
Gratitude is just as important as the asking.
"When things are good, you should be thanking God. I don't do enough of that. But if you get things, you should thank him, not just take, take, take. He really listens," he said.
Contact Suzette Standring: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.readsuzette.com She is the award winning author of The Art of Column Writing