Monday 25th April, 2005

Debbie Jacob
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Brewster, my trainer

David Brewster made me feel like a million-dollar baby. Long before Hillary Swank won her Academy Award for the story of a woman boxer, Brewster was in my corner. But the roles were switched from the movie: he had all the confidence; I had none.

When it came to writing, I wasn’t sure where to put the commas, and I always felt my stories could have been written better.

My worst fear was that I wasn’t aggressive enough to be a journalist. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a chair in the newsroom. Every journalist had a chair to claim but me. Needless to say it was difficult—not to mention nerve-wracking—to be fighting a deadline and searching for a chair.

One day it occurred to me to sit at the sports desk to do my writing. Sports writers worked in the afternoon, so I could write my stories in the morning and do my interviews in the afternoon—invert my day so to speak.

That’s how I met David Brewster, one of the best sports writers in the world. He was also one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to know—a real people kind of person.

The first time David praised my writing, I nearly fainted. I knew he was in a league way above me. Then, one day, he said the unthinkable: “Why don’t you be a sports writer?”

I think he said, “Why don’t you be the first woman sports writer,” but I might just think I remember him saying that because he was always out to make me feel like I was number one.

“Sports?” I asked, “like what?”

“Boxing,” Brewster smiled.

Sports Editor Mervyn Wells supported the idea. And so it was I came to boxing.

My first assignment was to interview David Noel. Brewster offered me advice: “Go to the gym; see what boxing feels like from a woman’s point of view.”

Brewster set up the interview with Noel’s manager.

At the gym, I found it was impossible to get a boxer to stop moving. Eventually, I saw my opportunity. Training finished so I tagged along behind my boxer.

Suddenly I realised I was in the men’s locker room. Men were shedding clothes like snakes shed skin.

Back at the office, where I was paler than usual and a bit shaken, Brewster asked, “How did it go?”

When I told him about the locker room experience, he said, “That’s it! The headline is going to be, ‘Help! Men are taking their clothes off around me!’”

I was sceptical. I didn’t think I should be the point of the story, but I learned not to argue with Brewster. He knew how to write a lead and angle a story like few people in the business. He said he had learned from good sports writers who came before him. Brewster always had time for retired sports writers who visited him.

Needless to say, Noel’s manager was not impressed. He thought the story was a fluff piece and he cussed out Brewster over the phone. Brewster listened. He could take a cuss like no one I have never known. Didn’t phase him a bit. In the end, Brewster laughed and said, “It was a good piece.”

Soon Brewster and I were going to boxing gyms in the Beetham where I wrote about the next contenders. Then, boxing hit the big time with a world title match between Leslie “Tiger” Stewart and Marvin “Pops” Johnson. I was pregnant with my daughter, Ijanaya, and so I was experiencing punches inside of me to rival any I was watching in the ring.

Mervyn called me aside one day and said he wanted a story on Pops’ wife, whose nickname was Tiger, and Brewster decided I should do a piece on how pugilists spend the night before a fight. “See what they eat and how they relax,” he said.

Because of Brewster I got to interview a cut man—just like Frankie from Million Dollar Baby. That turned out to be one of the most fascinating stories I ever did.

Then Brewster hooked me up with Johnson’s sparring partner. He turned out to be from my home town, Mansfield, Ohio. Through Pops’ sparring partner I got a ringside seat for the big fight in the stadium and when the fight finished and chaos ensued, Pops’ bodyguards ran to me and shielded me and my big belly from flying chairs.

By the time Stewart fought Don La Londe, Brewster had me covering fights. Soon after, Trinidad boxing got a knockout punch, but Brewster hoped for a comeback. He talked about it all the time—even when we went out for Chinese food on our birthday.

We were both born on the same day, September 27. One birthday, Brewster gave me a plaque of The Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” It sits on the desk in my study.

I will always remember Brewster pecking out a story with both index fingers. I will always live with the regret of missing his funeral. But then, God must have known I could not have said goodbye to Brewster.

I am sorry that Brewster and I drifted apart because I took a job as a teacher; but I’ll never forget what he taught me: keep your chin up; deliver the right jab; always protect yourself.

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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