Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In case you haven't heard of Columbus, Nebraska either

Here's a story about a man in Columbus, Nebraska:

FEW visitors spare a second glance for the scruffy man dragging the mop back and forth across the toilet floor.

With his giant hands, he squirts detergent in the urinal and fills the dispenser with clean towels....

[The 52 year old man] cleans toilets and throws out rubbish at the Columbus Family YMCA in Nebraska....During the week he has a second job emptying bins and unloading supplies at McDonald's.

In case you haven't figured out, this is a followup post, and it's about a guy who didn't always clean toilets:

[Leon] Spinks, a St. Louis native, captured the light heavyweight crown at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Two years later, in his eighth professional bout, he captured a 15-round decision over Ali in Las Vegas. Toward the end of a glorious era for heavyweight boxers, Spinks suddenly became top dog, his infectious gap-toothed grin making him one of the nation's most recognizable athletes....

But Spinks' life has changed.

Seven months later Spinks and Ali stood before 70,000 spectators at the Superdome in New Orleans for the rematch.

A global audience saw Ali win a unanimous 15-round decision, although Spinks has always thought the verdict should have gone to him....

[T]he years have been tough. After Ali he got one more crack at the heavyweight title, losing to Larry Holmes in 1981. But he blew his millions on drink and drugs, got divorced and lived briefly in an East St Louis homeless shelter. The public perception of him is that he partied away the £3million he earned from boxing.

"That's bulls**t," he snaps. "I was stupid and gave the lawyers power of attorney."

He says he never saw a penny of the £2.1million he made for Ali- Spinks II. "They stole all my money," he says.

And even though he's apparently found stability, life isn't perfect.

People [in Columbus, Nebraska] generally treat him well, he says, "except for that son of a bitch who stole my hat."

A few months ago, Spinks was playing a computer card game at a bar/pool hall a stone's throw from Main Street. He enjoys the game immensely, almost transfixed as he surveys the screen, oblivious to everything around him.

The front of his ball cap — a gift from one of his three grown sons — read, "Leon Spinks, World Champ, 1978."

A patron from the other end of the bar swooped toward Spinks, grabbed the cap and bolted out the back door and into the cold night.

Becky Oppliger, owner of the establishment, says she had never seen the thief before that night and hasn't seen him since.

"I still think there was a car waiting for him outside," she says.

Adds Spinks, "I'd still like to catch the son of a bitch."

Yet Spinks is definitely making a positive difference where it counts the most.

The champ sits at a cafeteria-style table in the Emerson Elementary School gymnasium in the heart of town, waiting for the fun to commence.

Brady Ligenza, a third-grader, is itching for action.

"Hey, Leon, you want to play dodge ball?" asks Ligenza, almost nose-to-nose with Spinks. "It'll be me and Zack against you, since you're the famous world-champion boxer."

So, here we go. Spinks moves gingerly on the gym's tile floor as the kids — two of them, then four, then a few more — zoom around him in every direction, like mosquitoes buzzing around a porch lamp. He turns his ball cap backward and smiles that famous smile....

"Most of the time, he's just one of the kids," says Lisa Kaslon, who helps oversee the after-school program....

"Right away, the kids really warmed up to him."

On this afternoon, Spinks and second-grader Chelsey Wyatt spend nearly 30 minutes playing a "Pop-o-Matic" board game called "Trouble." It's just Spinks and the slender, bespectacled girl sitting at a table. Spinks ultimately prevails and raises a fist in jubilation as Chelsey's shoulders slump.

"On the days Leon isn't here, the kids ask, ‘Isn't Leon coming today?'" says Stacey Whiting, who works in the program.

Says Spinks, "I'm a kid myself. I know what they like to do. It takes me back to my childhood."

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