A Fighting Chance
By Elisa Ludwig
As a child, Andrew Foy, MD ’08, fell in love with the Rocky movies. As an eighth-grader, he took up boxing when his grandfather bought him his first speed bag, and for five years he competed at the amateur level. Now, the assistant professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is helping to build a community around his favorite sport in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, region.
Andrew Foy, MD ‘08, with Savian Miller, an amateur boxer from Harrisburg, before the start of the December 9 event, Proving Grounds III: The Fight Before Christmas. Local amateur fighters often help in the setup and teardown of events in exchange for free tickets and passes to the shows.
“I always played other sports, but boxing was always the one I enjoyed most, even though a lot of people thought I was crazy for doing it,” he says. “It taught me what a win looks like, how to compete, and what it means to have courage.”
Foy stopped sparring during college and medical school but stayed a fan. Once he completed his cardiology fellowship at Hershey and became an attending physician, Foy looked for a cause or activity to add another dimension to his life. That’s when he encountered an article about a financially strapped boxing gym in Harrisburg that was struggling to stay open.
“I met with the owners and started donating money to help them stay afloat,” he says. “Then I started training at the gym myself. And then, the next thing you know, we were talking about putting on a professional boxing event, and what kind of backing they might need to get the licensing, insurance, and promoter’s bond required.”
Once Foy committed to providing the promoter’s bond and helping to organize the event, the natural next step was to create a small business entity, Titans Boxing Promotions LLC. The first event was held in June 2017, and Titans has put on two more since then. Foy does it as a side job, working around his teaching, research, and patient care schedule. The goal has never been to make money, however. He’s happy if he breaks even on the events, but he wants them to be high enough quality—with lights, sound, staging—to elevate the sport, draw fans, and create buzz.
“The attendance is growing, sponsorship is growing, and we’re creating more excitement around the sport, which has always been my goal,” Foy says. “I’ve always loved the people who participate in boxing. Harrisburg has a strong amateur boxing culture, but the boxers are rarely promoted as professionals, and if you can’t be promoted in your hometown, then you don’t have much chance to make it as a career.”
Moments before doors open to the public for Proving Grounds III: The Fight Before Christmas
When younger boxers see that there’s a venue for their passion outside of the gym, it gives them motivation to continue, he says. That will continue to bring in money—to the gyms, to help compensate the trainers who often work for little to no money, and to create a cycle of interest. There’s also the added benefit of keeping kids out of trouble with an activity that channels their emotions.
“Giving kids a sport like this is giving them a place to go to and a community to be part of. Boxing teaches kids so much about independence and resilience. Most of these guys grow up in conditions that are hard to imagine.”
Though Foy no longer competes himself, he does train for fitness, and he still spars with older boxers on occasion. He enjoys its unique challenges—its particular combination of endurance, hand-eye coordination, and bravery that the sport demands, as well as its emphasis on the individual as opposed to a team.
“To be really good at other sports, you might need one or two attributes, but for boxing it’s all of the above,” he says.
It’s also, he says, helped give him the competitive drive that pushed him through the challenges of medical school. Though he was admittedly bored at times by the intense pace and the required memorization of medical education, Foy enjoyed Jefferson’s atmosphere and the camaraderie of his classmates. He found “invaluable” inspiration in his professors and mentors, including Joseph Majdan, MD, Sal Mangione, MD, Edward Filippone, MD, and Katherine and Dale Berg, MD, who modeled bedside manner, clinical thinking, and a commitment to ongoing learning and research that he continues to emulate. He stayed on for his internal medicine residency training and decided to specialize in cardiovascular science.
Jamaal Davis (pro boxer) and Foy celebrating Davis’ win on December 9, when he captured the World Boxing Foundation USA Super Middleweight title. This was the first championship event promoted by Foy, and Davis, originally from Philadelphia, represents Harrisburg’s first professional boxing champion in many years.
“By then, I wasn’t boxing, but I was still running and doing triathlons, and I became interested in cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory physiology, and the athletic performance aspects of it,” he says.
His current research concerns the comparative effectiveness of tests and treatments in cardiovascular medicine, looking for the best, safest, and most cost-effective disease management strategies for patients. In rethinking deeply entrenched approaches to care, Foy sometimes faces pushback—which he relishes. For instance, he has challenged the use of cardiovascular imaging in patients who come to the hospital for chest pain but are not found to have acute myocardial infarction.
“As a boxer, I’ve always been a fighter. In that way, my personality is perfect for this kind of work. It might be an uphill battle to question commonly used practices, or call for the adoption of new and less lucrative methods. To some extent, I have an adversarial nature that enjoys what I like to think of as intellectual combat.”
For his part, Foy doesn’t see any contradiction in his desire, as a physician, to promote a sport that many people associate with injury. He strongly believes in the health benefits of all sports for children and adults, and he thinks boxing’s dangers have been vastly overstated. He has worked as a ringside doctor for amateur fights and never saw a serious injury. In the five years he sparred and competed in tournaments with professional fighters, he says he may have incurred one concussion, but he never had a definitive diagnosis. On the other hand, he broke multiple bones and got at least three concussions while playing football and once broke his nose while playing baseball.
“There are dangers involved with all sports. It’s my job as a promoter to take safety seriously and ensure that I’m not overmatching fighters where they might sustain a lot of punishment. It’s never going to be 100 percent safe, but you can do a lot to ensure that it’s as safe as possible. We’re lucky in Pennsylvania that our state commissioner does a great job of ensuring that only people who should have licenses to fight have them, so the risks are always minimized.”
At the same time, Foy says, boxing’s cardiovascular health benefits are significant both for training and competing.
“These guys are highly conditioned athletes. Training for and competing in boxing requires sustaining a high-intensity effort that combines aerobic and anaerobic exercise.”
Most of all, he says, it’s a sport that can help build character and confidence. He’s grateful for how it’s shaped his own life.
“Boxing taught me I could pretty much do anything I set my mind to,” he says. “I needed to prove to myself that I was brave enough to get in the ring. For a lot of other young people out there, it could be the encouragement and reinforcement they need to do something great.”