ELLSWORTH — With their backs facing one another, Chris Sarro and Justin Rolfe stand in the middle of a circle at the Down East Family YMCA gymnasium. More than 20 people wearing boxing gloves are rotating around them, but both men are standing still.
As participants at this Friday night boxing session at DEFY begin to tire, Sarro and Rolfe urge them to keep going. The two amateur boxers watch everyone’s footwork, glove positioning and stances with great care and are quick to offer tips for each of them.
Before long, a timer goes off in the corner. The drill is over, and as the participants breathe heavily and sweat profusely, Sarro steps up to offer some advice.
“Boxing is about discipline,” Sarro says. “It requires you to respect your opponent’s power and counter it with your own.”
For the past four months, Sarro, an artist and amateur boxer, has been helping aspiring fighters do just that at the Down East Family YMCA’s “Intro to Boxing” class. Over that span, the Ellsworth native has sought to expand the sport’s presence and appeal in Downeast Maine.
“Ever since we’ve started this class, it’s gotten all this interest,” Sarro said. “With every session we’ve had, one friend will bring three more friends who want to learn. It’s just kind of snowballed.”
Although the class usually brings in around 10-15 people, this special Friday session brought nearly twice as many than usual to the gym. Rolfe, a two-time Northern New England Golden Gloves champion, had traveled all the way from his home in Fairfield to be a guest host for the session, and participants were eager to hone their skills with a championship boxer.
“You don’t get that chance every day,” said Luke Boyle, a Franklin native in attendance for the session. “If you want to learn something, you might as well learn from the best.”
Whether those participants threw powerful punches or softer jabs, Sarro and Rolfe were willing to help. Using handbags, they taught techniques of all kinds to men and women of various skill levels over the course of the three-hour session.
Rolfe and Sarro first met when they fought on the same card in Lewiston four years ago. Since then, Rolfe has claimed Northern New England titles as a super heavyweight and even won the overall New England championship at that level in 2015.
“Chris and I have been sparring partners for a while,” Rolfe said. “When he wanted me to come down for this class, I wasn’t going to turn him down. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Boxing opportunities in Downeast Maine can be hard to find. With no rings or gyms throughout Hancock County, those with passions for the sport have to travel to places such as Wyman’s Boxing Club in Stockton Springs to fight.
“There used to be a small gym around here in the early ’80s, but there hasn’t really been anything since then,” Sarro said. “I come from a family of boxers, but in the past few years, I’ve been one of the only ones in the county who’s really pursued it. I’ve had to travel to do that, and that’s why it would be nice to see the sport gain more popularity out here.”
With time, Sarro hopes to see that change. With big fights at the national level headlining the sport in 2017 and more people hearing about the Wednesday and Friday class, he expects it to become even bigger within the next year.
“We’ve had a good attendance so far for much of the year, and I think it’s going to be even better for us in the winter months,” he said. “There’s still some work to do to grow the sport, but it’s great to see some more people passionate about boxing.”