Gerald McClellan Foundation


Kern Triumphs over Adversity

- Andre Courtemanche

ďIf you were to meet me in person, your impression would be that I am not a quadriplegic.   I have had people meet me and think I can get out of the chair.  I had one lady ask me.   I had a cast on my foot, and she asked me if I got hurt playing football.  You learn how to use what you do have to compensate for what you donít have.  Thatís where the mental part of boxing comes from.  I didnít realize the mental part was so important until I lost the physical part.  There is a whole other realm to athletics.Ē  Larry Kern

The inspirational story of Larry Kernís metamorphosis from prospective Navy Seal to wheelchair bound, but ďnowhere near dead,Ē boxing trainer pales any Rocky movie by comparison.  

As the owner/proprietor of Camp Kern, a 20-acre state-of-the-art training camp facility in East Central Mississippi and head coach of a burgeoning amateur boxing program as well, Kern says that in boxing, he has found a sport that anyone, including someone with his disability, can actively participate in.  ďIím not supposed to be doing much of anything from the neck down, but I did get some of my arm strength back.   I canít move my fingers, they stay in a fist, but I can throw a punch.  I can throw a jab and turn it over and bring a right hand.  I can even throw a hook and show a kid how I want the punch placed. Sometimes Iíll forget Iím in a wheelchair until I get reminded by a bump in the road that I have to get around.  I donít even think about it anymore.  People accept me as a boxing coach more than they would in some other sport.  I think the reason is that boxing is individual and its 99% mental.  If you can teach someone the fundamentals, they can become a good fighter.Ē 

Although he requires assistants to actually climb in the ring with his fighters and attend to the physical corner duties, Kern says that heís able to get in the perfect position and mind frame to offer astute guidance during fights.  ďI donít get in the ring, but I can get right up to it.  The fighters get very used to hearing my voice.  Iíve been in a wheelchair for eighteen years and Iíve learned more in this chair than I did in my previous life.  Iím more observant now and I notice more.  Plus, the way a fighter sits in the corner during a fight, their ears are right there for me to give instructions.Ē

The 33-year-old pulls no punches about the accident that left him paralyzed at age 16.  At the time, he was a motocross enthusiast with dreams of following his late fatherís footsteps into the U.S. Navy.  ďI want it known it was a drinking and driving accident because thatís an issue that needs to be faced,Ē he said.  ďIt was December 25, 1985, and I was in high school.  This guy called me that night, and said my grandma gave me $80, letís go get some beer.  I was experimenting with alcohol and getting a little wild. We were in a fast car, riding around the block in his 66' Chevelle Super Sport.  We turned onto the road where I lived, and he said he would stomp it one more time. We went through first gear and when he shifted into second, the car spun sideways and we went into a roll.  I remember seeing him come over top of me and then my head hit the ceiling.  It snapped my neck forward, completely breaking my C6, and C7 vertebrae.  You know in the horror movies when a person gets their neck broke and you can see the bones out the side?  When I gained consciousness, I was having trouble breathing and I couldnít get up.Ē

Seventeen years later, Kern says heís forgiven everyone involved and moved past what happened.  ďI donít blame him (the friend driving).  He has a hard time living with it to this day, but Iíve told him I donít blame him.  He didnít make me get in that car.  I shouldnít have done it.  I knew what I was doing was wrong, I just didnít know I would pay for it so dearly.  Before my accident, I had dreams of being a Navy Seal, but like I say, the car wreck came about.  I guess, in a way, itís good it happened to me instead of the other guys it could have happened to.  I feel like I can take it.  A lot of my close friends had a harder time adjusting than I did.Ē

Kern speaks with great affection for his stable of boxers (currently about half-a-dozen), many of them formerly troubled youths who have found a direction in life while learning the sweet science from their remarkable mentor.  ďBoxing gives every kid a chance to play.  Itís the only sport Iíve ever seen that a kid can walk in off the street, ala Bernard Hopkins, and be good at it.  Iíve seen a lot of kids benefit from boxing, and I find they donít want to street fight in their neighborhood anymore once they learn to box.  Itís too much hard work.Ē 

The origins of Camp Kern began with an aborted business venture into police dog training.  ďThe canine business went down and I had the opportunity to keep the building it was in.  I already had heavy bags hanging.  I was training my nephew on the side.  At the time, we had no mirrors, no lights.  We didnít even have heat.  But we would go and work out.  Then one day, I just looked around and said this would be a great gym.    I bought the ring and put up lights.  I hung plenty of different types of bags; heavy bags, hanging bags, speed bags.  When I started out, it was just a gym, but then I looked around and said this would be a great training camp for fighters to go to and get away from it all.  A chance for them to be away from friends, wives, girlfriends, just to get away to focus.  It already had rooms.  Thatís when I decided to turn it into a training camp.  Itís perfect for a fighter getting ready for a fight.  It can sleep seven people very comfortably.  It has washer and dryer, television, telephone.  Everything you would need to take a fighter and his trainers away from their usual environment and let them focus on training properly for a big fight.  It all sits on 20 acres of land too, so thereís plenty of privacy.  You canít even see the place from the road.Ē

While he waits and hopes for his camp to become a popular training spot, like Big Bear, in California,  Kern says he is happy devoting his time to his amateur boxers, one in particular who has been around from nearly the beginning, 16-year-old James ďBuddyĒ Lewis.  ďBuddy is special because Iíve had a lot of boxers come and go.  I have a brief case full of passbooks.  While some came and left for various reasons, Buddy was there the whole time.  Iíve really felt like quitting at times and Iím glad I had Buddy there.  I would be really down and heíd have that silly little grin on his face.  It made it a lot easier for me to have someone like him.  He never questioned why I asked him to do anything.  Buddy could possibly compete on the national level.  I do believe he has the skills to pretty much dominate the 132 lb. weight class.Ē

A vote of confidence came from the father of one of Kernís boxing idols.  Joe Byrd, father of IBF Heavyweight champion Chris, dropped by one day and according to Kern, seemed impressed with what he found.  ďHe told me heís been to several training camps and he told me mine was the nicest one he had ever seen.  To hear that from him, it meant a lot to me.  He looked around and met the fighters.  I told him stuff I was getting ready to do to the gym, and he said Ďdonít get too fancy.  If you make it too fancy, guys will come in here and get lazy.í The Byrds are the most likeable people Iíve met.Ē

Tucked away in the rural expanses of  East Central Mississippi is a very bright light for a sport sometimes seemingly devoid of heroes, and barren of inspirational stories.  One day Camp Kern may be the ďinĒ place to go to train for all the sportís big names, and maybe it wonít.  But what is for certain is that this man will keep fighting and he wonít quit until the final bell.

Birthplace/Date: Born on May 20, 1969 in Charleston, SC. My father, Jackson R. Kern was stationed in Meridian, MS. in 1970 and retired after 23 years of service as a Gunner's Mate & Sergeant at Arms. He introduced us to boxing. Camp Kern is dedicated in his memory.  

Family: I'm the youngest of 6 children. 3 boys, 2 girls. Jack Jr., Cynthia, David, Janet, Bo, and myself.

History: I was in a near fatal car accident December 25, 1985 that rendered me paralyzed. At the time I had aspirations of joining the US Naval Special Warfare Unit known as the SEALs. After nearly a year of hospitalization and rehabilitation combined, I returned home to pursue my education and adjust to a new way of life. I'm paralyzed, not dead! Life is a gift...don't waste it.

Education/Background: Obtained GED in 1987. Spent 2 years at Meridian Community College majoring in psychology and minoring in communications. I Transferred to Mississippi State University where I spent 4 semesters majoring in Secondary Education in History and Coaching football and basketball. Returned home in late 1992 and studied business courses before starting a business training K-9's for Law Enforcement agencies that lasted 3 years, while helping at the local gym I grew up at. I then transformed the facility into a boxing gym/training camp and registered with USA Boxing INC., and as they say "the rest is history."

Goals: To coach a future World Champion. Assisting young athlete's in achieving their dreams with emphasis on " education. " Also, sharing the dangers of alcohol and drugs with kids. It's a different world out there now. Most of all, I aspire to be the Christian the Lord Jesus wants me to be in or out of boxing. He let me live for a reason.   

Hobbies: I enjoy sports, indoor or out. Supercross & Enduro (I use to race. Click Moto X to see some photos from 1983), Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Baseball, etc,. There's also a love for the outdoors. Hunting and Fishing are relaxing to me. Swimming is great. Also, I  like to play Chess against experienced players when the opportunity arises.

All time favorite boxers: Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Salvador Sanchez, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Aaron Pryor, Ray Leonard, Chris Byrd, Willie Pep, Ricardo Lopez, Bob Foster, and the 1980's Mike Tyson.* Emphasis on 1980's!

Current favorite boxers: Roy Jones Jr., Sergio Martinez, Shane Mosley, Vernon Forrest, Israel Vasquez, Miguel Cotto, Winky Wright, Nonito Donaire, and a hand full of "young guns" on the way up like Ismayl Syllak, The Peterson Brothers,  etc,.