By PATRICK SLACK
Duane Bobick’s 13-year boxing career consisted of more than 165 fights in the ring and thousands of hours of training.
By the time he was finished, he had an amateur record of 93-13 with 61 knockouts and an incredible 48-4 professional mark with an astounding 41 knockouts.
Having stared down some of the greatest fighters in the world with a record few would match, it was only fitting that Bobick’s path would lead him into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame.
In his acceptance speech, Oct. 11, 2011, he said “it was an honor” to have Roger Thielen, his first boxing coach, in attendance.
It was Thielen who Bobick began his career with in 1966, training with the Little Falls Golden Gloves.
Bobick went on to say that, “Beating people up for a living was the most fun I’ve had in my life. Inside the ring, my opponents were my foes and I was the hunter. But outside the ring, they were all my friends.”
For a small-town Bowlus boy who craved adventure, boxing helped him see the world and make friends that remain to this day.
During the past year, Bobick was hit hard by the loss of three of his closest boxing friends, Scott LeDoux, former manager Joe Frazier and Ron Lyle.
“Boxing was big back in the ’70s and there wasn’t a lot of knowledge on the effects of being punched in the head over and over again,” said Deb Bobick, Duane’s wife. “He never knew years later he would suffer from pugilistic dementia or CTE.”
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes of contact sports that suffer from repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
The repetitive brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build up of an abnormal protein called tau.
The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, impulse control problems, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, aggression, depression and eventually progressive dementia, primarily affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.
The frontal lobe of the brain controls one’s balance, ability to be attentive, plan, organize and problem-solve as well as a variety of higher cognitive functions, including behavior and emotions.
For Bobick, his eventual diagnosis with CTE began about 15 years ago.
Deb started noticing gradual changes in his behavior, around the time he suffered a massive blow to the head in an industrial accident at the paper mill in Little Falls.
It wasn’t until two years ago, though, that the changes became more pronounced.
Bobick, a Navy and Army National Guard veteran, was taken to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.
The VA not only offered Bobick specialized units for traumatic brain injuries and memory loss, but also education and support for his family.
The VA began with neurological testing and pet scans on his brain, as well as other memory tests.
The initial results revealed a deficiency in short-term memory along with cognitive and behavior changes.
Repeated testing in November of 2011 found a significant downward progression.
At that time, the Bobicks were told that one of the best things that can be done for people suffering from progressive dementia is to establish a predictable routine for them.
That led Duane to the St. Otto’s day program in Little Falls.
“St. Otto’s day program has been a blessing,” Deb said. “Duane attends five days a week and it gives him a purpose, social interaction and also keeps his brain active during the day.”
Betty Heinz, the director of the day program, is “worth her weight in gold and cares deeply for everyone who attends the program,” Deb said.
The emotional and physical strain of caring for someone with dementia is another burden CTE causes.
One of the greatest is called “ambiguous loss.”
“It looks like nothing happened on the outside to other people and the situation gets even more confusing for the caregiver and family with the lack of understanding from others,” Deb said.
“The survivor may be present physically, but absent psychologically because of emotional or cognitive changes,” she said. “For the family it’s like living on a roller coaster. You never know if it’s going to be a great day or not so great of a day with him.”
On Monday, the Bobicks donated Duane’s Hall of Fame plaque to the Bowlus City Council to hang in its Community Center with two collages of Duane’s life donated last year.
Duane continued to serve as a referee and judge fights until last year.
Although he is unable to continue doing so, he will try to stay active in the sport as much as possible.
“I had a blessed life and with God’s help, prayers and the help of family and friends, my family will get through this,” Duane said.
“I’m not sure I would have gone into boxing back then if I would have known all the effects of head trauma that I know today,” he said. “But I don’t regret the experience, intense training and discipline I learned from the sport.”