When Andrew Myerson, EMBA ’15, and his friend, Julie Anne Kelly, began preparing for the New York Golden Gloves amateur boxing competition in 2010, they realized that the training timeline was similar to that of a marathon.
As many marathon runners do, they decided to tie their efforts to fundraising for a cause they both cared about: finding a cure for cancer.
After starting with a single web page to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the two went on to create Haymakers for Hope, a nonprofit that organizes high-end amateur boxing matches in Boston and New York. Anyone can train to participate in a fight, and all funds raised support cancer-related charities of the fighters’ choosing.
“We give regular people the once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can train at a real boxing gym for four months and we treat you like a professional boxer,” said Myerson. “The direct benefit is the money raised for the cause, but the indirect benefit is what is does for the fighters.”
The organization has seen people from a wide range of professions sign on to train for a fight and lose significant weight and make diet and lifestyle changes as a result of their newfound passion for boxing.
“We’ve had people as light as 110 and as heavy as 300 pounds, ranging in ages from their early 20s to 60-plus,” Myerson said.
The Haymakers team announces event dates a month in advance and puts out a call for participants. The charity fight nights are usually oversubscribed, with 200 to 300 people signing up to fight on a given night with slots for just 30 competitors.
As word of mouth has driven the effort’s success, “the building of community and camaraderie has been amazing,” Myerson said. “We vastly underestimated how much our friends wanted to see us get punched in the face.” Most in the crowd of spectators have never attended a live boxing match before.
Myerson co-founded the charity before coming to MIT Sloan and continued to expand it while at school. He credits his time at school with enabling him to think critically about how to build the organization. “Every paper I wrote was about it. I was able to take a step back as opposed to just thinking, ‘What do I need to get done tomorrow,’” he said.
The biggest challenge to the idea has been overcoming people’s existing perceptions of boxing. “It’s not about violence. It’s more about the competition,” Myerson said. “I would argue it’s safer than playing pickup basketball.”
Coaches are on hand at all times during the matches and injuries are typically minor, he said, with “maybe one broken nose a year.”
With the charity fight nights regularly selling out, Haymakers for Hope is on pace to raise $5 million for charity by the end of this year and is evaluating new cities for expansion.