Former middleweight champion of the world Hassan N’Dam wanted to repay the French hospital that cared for his father-in-law through his battle with COVID-19.
Perhaps with Champagne? Or chocolates?
“These are things that won’t last. I wanted to leave something quite memorable,” N’Dam said.
It occurred to him that he held the answer in his own hands — or rather, in his fists.
He would give the medical workers at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges hospital boxing lessons, to help them relieve the tension of long shifts during the coronavirus pandemic — “letting off steam, getting rid of all one’s emotions.”
“They have seen so many [difficult] things that they came here looking for something,” said N’Dam, who wore a blue mask as he spoke at the hospital. “Sometimes they came to laugh, to let off steam. Others came to discover something, others to learn, improve.”
The 36-year-old, who represented Cameroon at the 2016 Olympic Games, has won 37 of 41 professional fights — 21 by knockout.
His 30-minute training sessions have been immensely popular with the staff.
As a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU), 27-year-old Marina de Carli, has been on the front line of the pandemic since it hit France.
“In the ICU we see things that are not easy,” she said. “So it feels good to let the pressure drop a bit.”
Wearing camouflage-pattern shorts and a mask, she threw punches into the burly boxer’s hands during her fifth and final class.
“Advance, advance, advance, go back, go back, go back,” N’Dam calmly advised her.
Operating theater nurses Kenza Benour and Nassima Guermat warmed up for their training by skipping rope — awkwardly, because their shoes were covered with blue plastic protective shields.
Guermat’s strong left-right hook combinations pounded N’Dam’s hand pads, as his wife looked on.
The hospital boxing bouts also gave N’Dam valuable time to see his father-in-law, Jean-Claude Valero, as he recovered from COVID-19.
Valero on Wednesday was well enough to sit and watch N’Dam in action.
Philippe Wodecke, 55, who had a hand in treating Valero, was keen to learn from the former world champion.
Dressed in crimson red tracksuit pants and wearing a T-shirt from the 2012 London Games, the orthopedic surgeon’s pugilism belied his age.
Light on his toes, the stocky surgeon unleashed a quick four-punch combination that seemed to surprise, perhaps even impress, N’Dam.
Wodecke’s boxing career is unlikely to take off, but the workouts have been an invaluable help for him and his weary colleagues.
“A moment of escape, a moment of relaxation amid the torment,” Wodecke said. “He’s done us a lot of good.”
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