Southern Alberta’s sports community lost one of its biggest heroes recently.
Kai Yip’s story sounds like something that might have been created by a novelist or a Hollywood screenwriter. It’s the tale of a kid who thinks he’s tough until he’s invited to spar with a friend at the local boxing club — and takes a licking.
The kid comes back and learn his lessons well, so well that he becomes a two-time national champion, then represents his country internationally. He goes on to become coach of the local boxing club and spends his life teaching the sport, producing numerous champions and two Olympic boxers but, more importantly, moulding young people into citizens of strong character.
It might seem like the stuff of a Hollywood movie, except Kai Yip’s story really happened. He even seemed the part of a Hollywood hero, as charismatic a person as you could ever find on the local sports scene.
The roomful of people who came out to pay tribute to Kai at a memorial service last week represented a who’s who of the area’s sports community, and the community at large. They came to bid farewell and sing the praises of a man who touched many lives in his 77 years.
The tributes came from those who had known Kai from his youth, and from those to whom Kai was like a father — the boxers he not only trained in the “sweet science” but whose lives he impacted in such a positive way. He not only developed their muscles, stamina and boxing skills; he developed their confidence, courage and character, traits that served them well beyond the boxing ring.
Kai was a man of a million stories from his days in boxing, including the one Max Gibb, his former ring opponent and lifelong friend, told at the memorial service. It involved the time he fought in the Midland Golden Gloves tournament in Billings, Mont. Kai had been resting in his dressing room before the final when he was called upon sooner than expected. He threw on his robe and headed for the ring.
As Kai’s name was announced before the start of the fight, he strode to the centre of the ring and tossed off his robe — then realized he was wearing his jockstrap, but no trunks. The incident earned him continent-wide exposure in the sport’s premier periodical, Ring Magazine.
Kai would laugh when telling the story. But his boxing career was filled with highlights, too. He won two Canadian titles and represented Canada at the 1958 British Empire Games in Cardiff, Wales. He coached two Olympic boxers, Carmen Rinke of Lundbreck and later Rick Duff of Lethbridge, at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. It is Duff who now coaches the Lethbridge Boxing Club, carrying on the club’s proud tradition.
Kai was an inaugural member of the Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1987.
He was proud of his boxing accomplishments, with good reason. But what really made Kai’s eyes light up was when he would talk about his boxers, and not just the champions. He got a kick out of seeing a kid who was initially fearful and tentative become tough and confident in the ring — and away from the ring as well. No wonder one of his former boxers who spoke at the memorial wanted people to know how much Kai had changed the lives of so many young men who came through the club during his more than 30 years of coaching.
Kai Yip accomplished a lot in eight years as a boxer, but it’s what he accomplished afterward that will live on in the memories of those who knew him.
He was a champion in every sense of the word.