After spending an hour training to punch somebody in the nose, he sat down and talked about the importance of giving hugs.
“Hugs have become the new handshake of Dayton,” Nick Bowman said after his workout at Drake’s Downtown Gym Tuesday night.“It’s unfortunate, but it does feel good now.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hugged in the past 10 or 11 days – especially going through the Oregon District.”
The loving embrace is a way to counter and cope with the unthinkable act of hate and deadly violence that marred the downtown entertainment district just past 1 a.m. on Aug. 4.
That’s when a 24-year-old Bellbrook man dressed in body armor and firing a modified AR-15 like assault weapon equipped with two high-capacity magazines walked down E. Fifth Street and killed nine people and injured 37 more.
His rampage lasted just over 30 seconds when he was killed by police as he tried to rush through the front door of the crowded Ned Peppers Bar.
Along with the victims, their families and those who fled the carnage, the assault has taken a toll on the Oregon District businesses, the close-knit surrounding neighborhood and the entire city.
Everyone has been shaken to the core.
Yet, as Bowman – one of the founders and co-owners of the popular Warped Wing Brewing Company on Wyandot Street right next to the Oregon District – sees it, from enduring the worst of mankind during the shootings, people have now witnessed some of the very best of humanity since.
And Saturday night – at least for a few hours just a couple of blocks down Fifth Street from where the carnage happened – he thinks a punch will be just as good as a hug when it comes to healing.
Bowman, a 39-year-old father of three young boys, is fighting the main event on the 10-bout amateur charity boxing card billed as AleBeast Summer Knockout.
The twice-a-year charity event is put on by gym owner John Drake, this time in an outdoor ring set up outside his club located at 111 E. Fifth Street, across from the Neon Movies.
The show features local residents from all walks of life – Saturday’s fighters are connected to the 12 local breweries sponsoring the show – who have spent three months learning the basics of boxing so they can face off against each other for three, two-minute rounds.
Drake said this show will benefit both Joseph’s Legacy, a Middletown-based animal shelter, and the Oregon District Tragedy Fund set up by the Dayton Foundation to assist the shooting victims.
“An event like this helps project normalcy and strength,” said Bowman, who played football at Alter High School and graduated from the University of Dayton.
Since the shooting, Bowman said he’s seen the community “step up as a whole “ and “make us stronger together.”
On that the same Sunday when the shootings happened, he said he and his co-owners faced a dilemma: Do they open Warped Wing for business or keep it closed?
After checking to make sure their employees were all safe, they asked them what they wanted to do.
“They surprised me,” Bowman said. “They said they wanted to be open. And that day we were packed. We donated 100 percent of our profits from that day to the (tragedy) fund. We raised about $5,300 and then our bank – People’s Bank – stepped up to match our donation.
“I’m so damned proud of Dayton, more so now than ever. I think a lot of people have had the same feeling. We’ve never loved this place more. We’ve supported each other through a real tough summer.
“We had the KKK come in for a rally. That really disrupted our community and made us spend a lot of money, but we came together and said, ‘This isn’t us! We don’t want this. We are a community of love.’
”Then right after that we were hit by the tornadoes that really damaged our area. And now this.
“This is very personal to us. It involved somebody from our community hurting so many others here. We’re trying to help each other get through this, but I think there’s going to be a long time of healing to come.”
Giving back to Oregon District
Although Bowman had begun training for the boxing show in April – and in the process had lost 30 pounds so that he’s now 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds – he said he found himself unable to work out last week.
He said he was just overwhelmed “mentally and emotionally’’ from the tragedy.
Early this week he was back in the gym, often training with his opponent Saturday night, Colin Barclay, a former Delphos Jefferson football player and Ohio State student, who is sponsored by Mother Stewart’s Brewing in Springfield.
Involving the burgeoning local craft beer scene in his charity was something Drake said he’d envisioned for a few years.
One of the charities to be aided in this show — where doors open and variety of ales are available at 5:30 p.m., boxing begins at 7:30 and tickets are $25 at the door — is Joseph’s Legacy, which will have adoptable dogs and cats at the event.
Giving to the Oregon District fund was a natural for Drake, who once worked at Ned Peppers and whose gym first opened above the bar in 1998.
“I knew Jim Schaefer (the late owner of Ned Peppers) well,” Drake said. “We were friends.”
Bowman — who opened Warped Wing with three partners in January of 2014 after working nearly 15 years for national breweries around the country — has a special affinity for the Oregon District, as well.
Last Friday, he was part of a pub crawl there with people from other Dayton breweries. They stopped at nearly every drinking establishment along Fifth Street just to “support their businesses and let them know we’re here for them is the need anything,” he said.
Their first stop was the Oregon Express and that’s where Joe Bavaro and his wife Susan — who co-own and run the bar — set the tone for the day,
“They embraced all of us,” Bowman said. “That was the first of a lot of hugs we got that day.”
Tragedy brings people closer
Bowman said he’s seen the best of Dayton on so many fronts since the shooting.
From the police who ran straight into gunfire to stop the killer to Jeremy Ganger, the Ned Peppers’ bouncer who shepherded scores of people to safetyy and disarmed the fallen shooter to the people on the street who administered aid to the victims and the people who have shown up since to comfort and support the people of the Oregon District, Bowman said he’s seen “heroes everywhere.”
“I changed my Facebook page to Dayton police. Thy saved a lot of lives that night.”
Bowman said after the shooting, people he hadn’t heard from in years reached out to him:
“I hate it that tragedy brings people closer together, but it does.
“On Friday alone, I reconnected with three people I hadn’t talked to in a long time. And it didn’t matter what had happened in the past — that wasn’t important — it was about being there for each other.”
Bowman also feels empathy for the parents of shooter Connor Betts, who also killed his sister in the rampage:
“I’ve had friends who had children they couldn’t control, kids who were just lost. (The Betts) lost two children that night. Their lives are forever ruined. I consider them victims, too.”
He said he was buoyed when he walked down Fifth Street just days after the shooting and saw the patios of Salar and Toxic Brew filled with people.
“To me that was a great sign of the strength of Dayton,” he said. “After a terrible tragedy, we’re not hiding in the suburbs. We’re embracing where it happened. People are back downtown supporting each other.”
As he was talking, Barclay, his opponent Saturday night, walked past and offered a parting pleasantry.
“There goes my enemy,” Bowman said with a grin. “Well, at least until about 11 p.m Saturday night.”
But when their fight ends, he said they’ll ignore the bruises and sweat and they will embrace in the ring.
That’s what you do in Dayton these days.
You counter the hurt with a hug.
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