The life, the living and the journey of Bob Meyer01/23/2023 11:33AM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Seventy-year-old Landenberg resident Bob Meyer has been a competitive Master Boxer since 2010 and has accumulated a 4-1 record.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
“Boxing has always been a sport that best reflects life, with its one-on-one struggles that we can all relate to. In our daily lives, we have to constantly rise up and meet challenges, and boxing sums that up best for me.” Budd Schulberg, The New York Times
Early in the afternoon of October 22, 2022, 70-year-old Landenberg resident Bob Meyer, weighing in at 165 pounds, entered a boxing ring at the Showboat in Atlantic City, as a middleweight entry in the Masters Boxing Championship.
The white square canvas was not unfamiliar to Meyer. He had come to competitive boxing years before – inspired in part by his friendship with Clif Johnson, the owner of Lef Jab Boxing Club in West Grove, where he has trained since 1996 – and had already accumulated a decent 3-1 record in his previous middleweight Masters Boxing Championship bouts. This fight was different, however; it was closer to home -- the first time the tournament was being held in New Jersey after years of him schlepping out to Kansas City, Mo. to compete.
In the opposite corner of the ropes stood the boxer Gary Klein, a veteran of the Masters Boxing world. Meyer had trained ten weeks to prepare for the bout, but he came to Atlantic City carrying a simple philosophy that had been with him since he first began competitive boxing in 2010 when he was 58.
Let my opponent worry about defense, because I’m going to throw non-stop bombs at him.
The fighters banged gloves in the center of the ring. Two rounds later, Klein fell, the victim of a whistling combination of left jabs and punishing rights from Meyer. Klein was defeated, and Meyer took the championship belt with him back to Chester County.
Shadowboxing in Yeadon
For the past 30 years, Meyer has lived with his wife and their four children in the vicinity of South Guernsey and Pennock Bridge roads. A long-time business owner and a former supervisor for Franklin Township, there is little about Meyer in conversation that suggests that he could be anything but a reserved, upstanding citizen.
There is another side of what has made the man, however, that reveal a life spent nurtured and driven by the energy of defiance, toughness and resilience. Raised in the blue-collar
neighborhoods of Yeadon, Pa., Meyer and the roughnecks of his childhood were of the generation who were told my their mothers not to come home until the streetlights came on. It was a childhood of constant activity and movement – pick-up football, baseball and basketball. Often the youngest and smallest in the group, Meyer was bullied by his older brother and his friends, and became the victim of severe taunting.
“They used to hold me down and do cherry bellies on me, but I spat in their faces,” Meyer said. “Once I got to be about 14, I started training in my basement with a heavy punching bag and began shadow boxing. I felt I needed to take care of myself, and eventually, I would come to beat up every one of those guys who used to pick on me. They all told me that they would never mess with me again, and begged me to not tell the other guys that I had just taken them down.”
After graduating from Yeadon High School, Meyer did a stint in the U.S. Marines, then came home to attend Saint Joseph’s University, where he was introduced to a new sport, Rugby, that soon became his passion.
“I broke my nose during the first game, and I thought, ‘This is the sport for me,’” he said. “Rugby satisfied my need for competition.”
A year after graduation, his first wife – his high school sweetheart – was killed in a car accident when he was just 25 years old.
“A terrible thing had just happened to me, but bad things happen to everyone, and as bad as I had it, I knew that some had it worse than me,” Meyer said. “Was I going to feel sorry for myself for the rest of my life, or was I going to push forward?”
As a way of healing himself, Meyer buried himself in his new sport.
“After my wife was killed, rugby bailed me out,” he said. “I fell into a great group of guys, who realized what I was going through and began to stop by my house and pick me up to go play all over Philadelphia.”
In 1996, now remarried with children and living in Landenberg, Meyer opened a coffee shop at the current location of the West Grove Diner. At the same time, Johnson was beginning Lef Jab Boxing Club next door. While Meyer’s business venture didn’t succeed, his newfound friendship with Johnson did.
“I asked Clif what he was doing, and when he told me he was about to open a boxing club, I thought it was perfect for me,” said Meyer, who quickly joined the club. “It would allow me to walk next door and release all of my stress, and return to a sport that I loved when I was younger.”
In 2008, a neurosurgeon advised Meyer to give up athletic competition after a freak accident left him with a broken neck due to convulsions experienced from food poisoning. Meyer refused to follow the doctor’s orders; instead, he buried himself in rehabilitating his body at Lef Jab. In 2010, after he had worked under the tutelage of Johnson in the ring, Meyer entered into his first Master Boxing Championship at the age of 58, and earned the first of his three Masters Division Boxing Titles.
“We have always shared the same desire,” said Johnson of Meyer. “My philosophy has always been that failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and that you need to prepare for anything you wish to do in life. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the best, but it means that you have chosen to live life without excuses, and that is something that Bob and I have in common.”
‘The journey is what’s exciting’
Five championship fights and thousands of hours spent on a Rugby pitch later, Meyer’s tally of his body is a lifetime disabled list of physical setbacks. He has broken every finger except for one, as well as both thumbs, several broken ribs and collarbones, and has gone through four reconstructive shoulder, back and cheek surgeries. None of it phases Meyer; he continues to train more than 20 hours a week at Lef Jab, sometimes in the company of athletes 50 years younger than him, and sometimes alone, with only the clink of weights and the speed bag breaking the silence.
“I use that time to think about my next competitor, and what he might be doing to train for our upcoming fight,” he said. “If he is doing three miles of road work, then I’m going to be doing five miles. If he’s in the ring for an hour, then I’m going to be in the ring for two hours. I keep pushing myself, because I have always pushed myself.”
“What happens with people is that everyone has aspirations to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but they forget the journey,” said Johnson. “The journey is what’s exciting. All of Bob’s ups and downs, his ailments and the injuries that went on prior to Bob’s latest championship? That’s the life, the living, the journey, and it’s been the journey that Bob and I have shared for the last 20 years.”
Meyer said he will continue to box and play Rugby as long as he can wake up in the morning and continue to make a fist. In a world where the majority of 70 year-olds are slowly shutting down the gears of their lives, Meyer remains both proud and defiant about the choices he continues to make for himself.
“I tell my wife that I will quit boxing and Rugby when I am on the other side of the ground, but not until then,” he said. “I used to tell my daughters, ‘Why do you care what anyone thinks of you?’ ‘How does that affect your life?’ I don’t care what anyone thinks of me. I’m doing my own thing, and I only care about what continues to drive me forward.”
The 2023 New Jersey Masters Boxing Championships will be held on Sept. 16 and 17, again at the Showboat in Atlantic City. Bob Meyer will be 71 years old then, and he plans to be there, the forever fighter in the ring of competition.
Lef Jab Boxing Club is located at 112 Rosehill Ave., West Grove, Pa. To learn more, call 484-860-4464 or visit the club on social media.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]