Queensland boxing young gun Dana Coolwell admits he experienced the dark side of life too often, far too soon.
He was drinking alcohol at 12. By 13, he was mourning the sudden death of his father, Russell. At 14, he dabbled in drugs. By 18, he could have easily been in jail, or suffered a more tragic fate.
That Coolwell is Australia’s super featherweight champion at 23 — a decade after his life fell apart — is testament to the Sunshine Coast slugger’s determination to overcome incalculable odds to flourish in a sport that has proved his salvation.
On Wednesday night, Coolwell (7-1, 5KO) celebrates the high point of his rollercoaster young life. The Indigenous battler from Beerwah will be the main event on a Fox Sports card when he takes on unbeaten Venezuelan Ender ‘The Tiger’ Luces (16-0, 14KO) for the IBF youth title at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall.
Coolwell cannot fathom his rapid rise … especially given the trauma behind his fall.
“It’s hard to say what the toughest thing has been. I saw it all at a pretty young age,” says Coolwell as he prepares for the biggest fight of his career against the dangerous Luces.
“I’ve seen domestic violence, the death of my dad, drugs and alcohol.
“When I lost my dad, I started playing up a bit. You wake up one day and realise your dad won’t be there ever again.
“I lost my way.
“I had drugs around me. I was doing marijuana. I drank alcohol.
“Being young, I was trying stuff out, thinking I was cool, but looking back it was all stupid.
“That’s why I am grateful for where I am today. I had my first fight a year after I lost my father and my trainer, Steve Pitt, has been more than my coach, he has become a father figure for me.
“If it wasn’t for boxing, I don’t know where I would be.”
The last time Coolwell cruised into Fortitude Music Hall in December, he exited with the national super featherweight belt.
In an epic boilover, he floored menacing Miles Zalewski (9-2, 7KO) with a 10th-round knockout that announced ‘Deadly’ Dana as one of the rising talents of Australian boxing.
Ranked No.6 in his division behind Australia’s world-ranked top dog Liam Wilson, Coolwell’s work ethic is admirable. In nine years training with Pitt, he has never missed a session. He was late once by two minutes, charging into the Hinterland Boxing Club wearing undies.
“Beating Miles to win the national title was incredible,” he said.
“All the hard work and early mornings, it felt so good to get some reward for that.
“Some mornings I am up at 3am to do a run before I go to work. I start at a bakery at 4.30am, then I’m at the gym by around 4pm and by the time I’m finished training, I’m home at 7pm and it all starts again the next day.
“It’s hard to wake up some days, but my end goal is to win a world title and I believe I can.
“This is why I’m doing the sport.”
Coolwell knows he must find another level to dispose of Luces, a South American southpaw boasting a lethal 87 per cent knockout rate.
“This is definitely the biggest fight of my career,” he said.
“The plan is to stop him in the later rounds. He is taller and has heavy hands so I have to watch myself early and slowly break him down with punches in bunches. My jab is my best punch. I plan on using it a lot.
“I’m heading up a Fox Sports show so I want to test myself and prove I am world class. Taking fights like this is the only way to get better.”