Boxing Helped Him Stay Sober, Now He Wants To Go Pro

By Kelly Burch 05/17/19

“I can’t wait to give the sport back what it has given me,” said amateur boxer Chad Leoncello.

sober boxer wrapping his hands

When Chad Leoncello started boxing two-and-a-half years ago, he was fighting to stay sober. But next week the Massachusetts resident will appear before the state athletic commission as he seeks to become a professional boxer.

“I’ve had a late jump on the sport,” Leoncello, 35, told Enterprise News. “But my will and my heart is what is pushing me through. I’m not saying I’m going to be a world champ. But I do have some time to fight and really just make a statement of who I am as a fighter.”

Leoncello also started the “Sober Warriors” movement, which aims to introduce people struggling with substance use disorder to the sport. 

“When I talk to guys in my testimonies, I say, ‘You get frustrated with your girlfriend, a family member or a life situation, and you want to drink, or you want to punch something. So punch something,’” Leoncello told Enterprise News last year. “And it does work. It’s more of a healthy outlet for us. It’s really a healthy way to cope.”

To bring the new coping skill to people in recovery, Leoncello delivered punching bags and other equipment to sober homes around Boston. 

Other people in recovery began training with Leoncello and eventually went to competitions with him. 

“I feel amazing in my recovery—boxing and growing—but it’s also watching my guys, and seeing them in the ring,” Leoncello said. “The majority won, but it was more about their families being at the show. Guys go from on their deathbed and overdosing, and now they have their families cheering them on, showing them love and crying at the end of the match. That’s the reward by itself.”

Leoncello, who is recovering from alcohol and opioid use disorder, said that he got into boxing by chance but quickly realized that it could be a great tool for people in recovery. 

“The judge gave me a device I had to blow on three times a day. If I blew a positive I couldn’t see my son,” he explained. “I had three days to kill before seeing my son. I didn’t know what to do... I went to the doctor who gave me a drug for withdrawals. And I decided to walk into a boxing gym, and take my frustrations out that way. I made it down to Florida, and it was the first time I felt something real in my heart. From that point on, I never picked up a drug or alcohol again.”

Now, Leoncello is hopeful that he’ll have the chance to fight professionally and show again what the sport has done for him. 

“It’s something I want to do in life... I think the big lights are calling my name... I have a lot of respect for the sport because of what it has done for me and my life,” he said. “I can’t wait to give the sport back what it has given me.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.