It’s probably not fun to spend your days getting punched in the face at work, but WBA super middleweight champ Andre Ward (27-0) makes sure to dish out more punishment than he takes, both with his fists, and now, between his fights, as a commentator for HBO Boxing: “They’re still my peers, and I still respect them, but I gotta call it like I see it.”
Even with all Ward has achieved in and out of the ring, he still considers being a father of four his greatest (and often toughest) accomplishment. “There’s no going back,” he says with a laugh. “So I just look for ways to continue to get better.” Ward recently sat down with us to explain how his dad, Frank, inspired him to be an Olympic gold medalist, world champion, father, and man – in his own words:
"My dad was on the boxing team in high school and he was just telling me about his rivals and how he trained, and as a kid I looked up to him. He was my mom and my dad. He raised me as a single parent, so after one conversation, I was like, "Dad, I want to do that, too.” He said, okay, but if we do it, we gotta stick to it."
"That’s how my dad was, all or nothing."
"He knew, if nothing else, he wanted his son to learn to hit and not get hit. But he also wanted me to learn the art of boxing, and we met a guy who said, 'That’s what I do.' We did a few test runs, I liked him, and I’ve been with Virgil ever since."
"We lived on top of Kelly Hill in Heyward, California and when he would pull off the freeway, as soon as we turned the corner I would get knots in my stomach, because I don’t know if he’s going to make me run home or not. But more times than not: 'Get out.' It’s about a mile-and-a-half straight up, and it’s at the end of our day, the end of the workout, and I hated it. But it makes it you who you are."
"Once I got established regionally we said, 'Okay, the Olympic gold medal is twelve years away.' Of course you don’t know how things are going to go, but we literally had them written down. This is what we’re going to do. I think with my dad being a former fighter, he saw a little talent in me and just thought, 'You could do this.'"
"My dad was the type of man I aspire to be. He taught me simple things, like when a man walks in a room, stand up, look him in the eye, and shake his hand."
"My mom wasn’t around for most of my life, so he had to carry both of those burdens. And I’m thankful because my dad passed when I was 17 years old. If I didn’t have that example, I don’t know if I would have what it takes to raise my boys, and I don’t know if I would know how to carry myself as a man. It’s possible, but I got a head start on life because he pointed me in the way that he did."
"It was extremely tough and so bittersweet to win the gold medal without my father. He invested time, money, energy, and sweat into that moment as well, and that wasn’t just my dream, but our dream. To be on that podium, I look back and kick myself. "Dude, why weren’t you smiling?" I know I'm looking up and thinking, man, dad's not here. But it was encouraging to know that I followed through. I finished the course. Dad and I did it together."
"Virgil always played a dual-father role. I went through a tough time after my dad died. I was done with boxing and started hanging with the wrong crowd, I just shut down. Everyone would call Virgil and tell him I was blowing it. But they worried about Andre the fighter. He was worried about Andre the man. He knew that if he could get me right the rest would come around, and that was true. I finally woke up, became myself, and realized I needed to get going again. I’m thankful for him being honest with me and being there for me."
"Being a father is one of my greatest accomplishments. Sometimes I sit and wonder, 'Do I really know what I’m doing?' But we’re in it now. My wife and I have four children, there’s no going back, so I just look for ways to get better. I’m going to make mistakes, but if I can just get these guys to the point where they go off and become productive citizens, I’m happy."
"Sometimes I hear myself talking to my kids and think, 'Wow, that’s my father.'"
"My two older boys never got into boxing, but my two-year-old son is in love with the sport. He comes to the gym and has his own little pair of Everlast gloves, he’ll pick up both of them and say, 'Daddy. Fight fight.' I know it’s a long way off, but that’s what you want to see. You don’t push them, but all the sudden they just grab it and do it. So we’ll see. He’s got some big shoes to fill, but we’ll see. I’m not pushing him."