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Olympic medallist Mark Leduc: 1962 – 2009

Gay Canadian boxer won silver at the '92 Olympics

PROUD FIGHTER. Mark Leduc at an Xtra cover photo shoot, soon after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He died Jul 22. Credit: Tony Fong photo

Mark Leduc, a gay Canadian boxer who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, has died.

Leduc was found unconscious in the sauna of a Toronto hotel on Sunday morning. He was taken to St Michael’s Hospital, where he died on Wed, Jul 22. A source told the Toronto Star that doctors believe Leduc suffered a heat stroke that damaged his internal organs.

Leduc came out in 1994 and was an active volunteer with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. He served as a grand marshal of Toronto Pride in 1999.

A fuller appreciation of Leduc’s life by his friend Edward Zawadzki follows:

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Mark Leduc was gay. Who cares was always my personal opinion on the subject. The only part of Mark that mattered to me was that he was my friend, a man who I respected and admired for not only his skills in the boxing ring, but his work ethic and courage that he relied upon to constantly get through a tough life. I had always heard from people that Mark was gay, but I found that even though many times he had to be outspoken publicly he still kept his personal life close to the vest.

I remember when he opened that part of his life to me to comical results. It was in the fall of 1993 and Mark was working out hard at a dark, dingy basement gym in downtown Toronto with famed local trainer Benny D’Amico preparing for a fight the upcoming week. We were also waiting for the arrival of a CBC crew that was going to shoot a feature story about his upcoming bout, and we went outside to await their arrival. While outside, a great looking, well dressed young couple slowly sauntered by, most likely on their way back to the office after lunch. We both commented about the person’s sexiness and attributes. We then gave each other a quick look and cracked up laughing as we realized we were talking about two different bodies of this attractive duo.

Our relationship as friends moved forward in leaps and bounds after that moment and I not only liked the guy but I respected his outlook on the world and life. Mark had it tough in his life: crime, drugs, prison and with it the hard world of boxing. But humour, courage and an unmatchable sense of decency always had a way of lightening the load for this talented athlete and activist.

We live in a time and age when the above attributes are spoken about anyone who has known even the slightest heartache in their life, but Mark was one person who truly deserved all the accolades that could be showered upon him. Even after his tough beginnings this was a man who through those same attributes won a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and soon afterwards would become the Light Welterweight Champion of Canada. We all knew — Mark included — that due to the fact of his age (he was over 30 when he turned pro) that there would be time constraints on his career. There was so much that he wanted to accomplish in his life and career.

I clearly remember that late night phone call I received from him just prior to his public announcement of his homosexuality. He had a nice eastside Toronto gym on the go with a youth boxing program that he was so proud of, a boxing career that he wanted to continue for a little while still and a solid personal life that brought him the happiness that he longed for. He asked me what I thought about his upcoming press conference and my take on his situation. I remember telling him that he certainly didn’t need my advice for he already knew what he had to do for himself. I also remember telling him that he was the one who had to look into the mirror at himself, but if it helped that he was loved and respected by all his friends and colleagues and we would support him in any decision. I can’t remember when I was more proud of any one of my friends when Mark opened that part of his life to everyone with such grace and dignity.

It is now the day after receiving the shocking news of this young man’s death. I read an article from a national Toronto-based newspaper, in which the reporter made a statement about Mark coming from the homophobic world of boxing and I have a need to clarify something with her about that statement. There was nobody on the Canadian boxing team who was better liked and respected than Mark Leduc. His teammates supported him always without failure as he did them time and time again. There was not a more loyal friend to his friends! Was Mark Leduc a gay athlete? Absolutely. As important as that was to so many people, I will always remember Mark as one of the most special humans beings that I ever had the privilege of knowing.

Rest well my friend.

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Edward Zawadzki is a writer, broadcaster and author who has also dabbled in boxing and martial arts. He has promoted events and fights featuring such stars as George Chuvalo, Muhammad Ali, The Hilton Brothers and members of past Canadian Olympic teams.