JUSTIN FORTUNE: TOUGH BUT LOVABLE MAN YOU WANT TO BE IN YOUR COMPANY
By Eddie Alinea
Wed, 12 Dec 2018
When Manny Pacquiao’s strength and conditioning coach was diagnosed to have been suffering from throat and neck cancer in 2014, Justin Fortune came close to despair.
“There were a couple of times when I wanted put a bullet in my head and I’m no pussy,” the tough, heavy built Fortune told this writer in an interview on the eve of his 53rd birthday on Tuesday while waiting for Pacquiao for the day’s training session at the Elorde Boxing Gym in Pasay City.
“I went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It was pretty tough. My cancer was stage 4. They opened me up from my chin to my ear.
“I had to change my lifestyle, my diet, my outlook - everything. And you have to fight. Or you roll over and fucking die and I didn’t want to do that,” he recalled.
“So I stopped being a fucking scumbag. I stopped stressing, I changed my diet. Got rid of sugar and eliminated all the crap. I’m clear now that’s what they said. But you can never jump the gun. Every time I see a doctor, if they’re happy, I’m happy.”
It was typical Fortune speaking – honest. The overriding impression of the tough stuff the former Australian heavyweight is made of. But a lovable man, who you’d definitely want to be in your company.
Like many tough men, he is also emotional, paying a heartfelt tribute to his wife Tamara, who he said made him choose boxing over powerlifting, the sport he first involved in, and for her role in caring for him throughout this difficult period.
“We’d only been married for like six fucking months when I was diagnosed. A lot of people would have just bailed. But she sure as hell stuck,“ wrote Luke G. Williams of Boxing Monthly. “It takes a really strong person to stand by someone who has cancer. Anyone who’s going through serious illness knows the care givers are gold.”
Before undergoing treatment, Fortune disclosed, he froze some of his sperm in case he and his wife wanted to start a family at a later date. Last August, the couple were delighted to welcome twins - a boy they named Cayolen and a girl they call Sofia -- into the world.
“From having cancer all of a sudden a couple of years later we’ve got nine-month old twins running around, it’s brilliant and a blessing – absolutely,” he said smiling.
A further blessing is the fact that 2018 marks ten eventful years since he opened his ‘Fortune’s Gym’ along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
“We opened in 2008, right when the worst fucking recession hit this country. It was great timing!” Fortune quipped.
“The first four or five years were brutal, but we’ve stuck it through. It’s a good gym. I don’t take shit from anybody, I’ve thrown out a lot of dirt-bags and now we have a real close community in the gym. There’s no shit. It’s clean. Women can come in and not be harassed.”
The gym has been frequented by a host of Hollywood actors and celebrities over the years, according to Wiliams. While as a trainer or strength and conditioning coach Fortune has worked with over 30 world champions at various times.
By coincidence, Justin also met Tamara through a celebrity function of sort.
“She’s an ex-college athlete,” he explains. “We met when I was training her for a celebrity boxing match against Kim Kardashian. She beat Kim up and gave her a black eye.
Fortune was born in a sleepy western Australian city of Perth on December 12, 1965. He and brother Mike grew up under the care of father Peter, who is in a car business, and a wonderful mother Patricia, an interior designer.
“Never in a million years did I ever imagine I’d end up in Hollywood!” he admits with a chuckle. “Perth is the furthest city from the rest of the world on the map!
“As a kid I was always interested in boxing, but I was committed to other sports,“ he narrated. “I competed in powerlifting – I had world records, Australian records, Commonwealth records, but there was no money in it. So I turned to boxing – I always enjoyed the purity of one on one sport."
He started boxing when he was 18 or 19. He had 26 or so bouts as an amateur, went to the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and was Australian champion before turning pro.
Fortune had also embarked on a career as a classically trained French chef. “I wasn’t smart enough for university so I got a trade. I went to Sydney to start my chef’s apprenticeship when I was 15.”
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