A fighting chance

Pan Am Place offers respite for residents

Thomas McKay wraps his hands in preparation for a work out.

I have run uphill in a hailstorm while trees were falling all around me, and I survived.       – Thomas McKay 

These words may sound like a metaphor for the challenges life can throw our way, but this is not just a metaphor – it’s an actual event from Thomas McKay’s life. 

McKay, a 27-year-old resident at Pan Am Place, has struggled with holding down jobs, keeping a roof over his head and keeping his family together. He has encountered violence and substance abuse. While these challenges could certainly be overwhelming for anyone, McKay chooses to focus on the present and looks toward a brighter future.

Having a place to call home at Pan Am Place has been an important cornerstone of McKay’s positive outlook. 

Pan Am Boxing Boxing & Athletic Club started as just that – a boxing and athletic club. After finding success with its Youth-At-Risk program, Pan Am decided to expand on the boxing program to include the Pan Am Place residence. The aim of the club is to offer a 24/7 safe and positive environment for male residents between the ages of 18 and 25 that encourages school/work, nutrition, exercise, volunteerism and discipline. 

As a resident of Pan Am Place for almost two years now, McKay has fully accepted the rules and regimented lifestyle of the program and has become a mentor for new residents. 

He has achieved many important goals including staying completely sober for more than six months, losing weight, becoming more physically fit, and competing in provincial boxing competitions. 

Thomas McKay observes Winnipeg’s exchange district from the window of Pan Am’s common area.

Recently McKay and his partner won back their kids from foster care and he enjoys being able to spend time with them. 

“I trained hard to make changes in my life. I did a lot of paperwork to see my children,” McKay says. 

McKay credits his experience at Pan Am Place with helping him find a positive footing and getting his life on the right track. He has enrolled his stepson in a youth boxing program at Pan Am with the hope that he will be a positive role model for his younger siblings. 

After two years, McKay feels ready to take on life outside the program and is hoping to find his own place soon. He’s applied for a job with the Canadian Forces, and hopes to hear from them soon. 

“It’s not an everyday job. They will help pay for my education to get a good trade,” McKay says.

Published in Volume 70, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 11, 2016)

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