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Contender’s First Boxing Coach Paints a Picture

Gary Dobry, owner of The School of Hard Knocks, says this one’s special.

Gary Dobry said he doesn’t remember the first time Mike Lee walked into his gym.

“That was a long time ago,” Dobry said. “He was a little kid.”

He does remember that Lee—now an undefeated professional fighter living in Houston—was in the same class as Tom Zbikowski—who grew up to become a safety in the NFL.

John Lee, Mike Lee’s dad, said he remembers that day. It was about 15 years ago. His son was 9. John Lee swells with pride when he talks about his son. John Lee has the T.V. commercial his son did for Subway restaurants saved on his smart phone. He’s not shy about letting you see it.

John Lee visited Dobry recently to do some catching up.  He noticed paintings of boxers on the wall of The School of Hard Knocks in Crystal Lake.  Besides giving boxing lessons, Dobry—a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and a protégé of the late Ed Paschke—is an accomplished painter, working in acrylics.

John Lee commissioned a portrait of his son and gave Dobry a photo to go by.  It’s finished now. Dobry is waiting for John Lee to come by and pick it up.

Where will it hang?

“I’m going to send it Mike,” his father said. “He’ll like it.”

 “I’ve painted a lot of portraits before,” Dobry said. “Usually it’s somebody’s girlfriend. You don’t get emotionally involved.

“This was special for me. Mike was in my youth program where I try to teach a work ethic. I hoped I helped in that way. It’s not that he became a big-name professional boxer. It’s more than that. He can go out and find a good job. He’s got a finance degree from (the University of) Notre Dame.  He doesn’t need to box but he’s doing it because it is his passion.”

• Mike Lee is 8-0 with 5 knockouts as a light heavyweight.  His next fight is June 8 at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.

• Gary Dobry’s artwork can be seen June 1 – July 7 at Chicago’s Packer Schopf Gallery, 942 W. Lake Street.

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