Movie inspirations Micky Ward, Dickie Eklund to speak in South Portland

Former boxing champ “Irish” Micky Ward is coming to Maine – along with his half-brother, Dickie Eklund.

The two Lowell, Mass., natives were made famous (well, more famous, really) in the recent hit movie, “The Fighter,” starring Mark Wahlberg as Ward and Christian Bale as Eklund.

The two will be the guest speakers at Day One’s annual celebration that works to raise awareness about substance abuse. Day One is a South Portland-based agency that deals with teen drug and alcohol abuse and helps about 1,000 youth each year.

At each annual celebration, they feature guest speakers who can address the dangers of substance abuse. Last year the speaker was Glen “Big Baby” Davis of Celtics fame, who spoke about his issues growing up with a family member who was a crack addict.

Earlier, when I mentioned that the movie “The Fighter” made Ward and Eklund only more famous, it was because both were famous (in one case, infamous) already, albeit not to quite so broad an audience.

Eklund was one of several people featured in the HBO documentary “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell,” which centered on the horrible and pervasive crack problem facing the mill city in the 1990s. Eklund was one of the addicts in the documentary, and was portrayed as such in “The Fighter,” as well.

And as for Ward’s fame previous to “The Fighter … well, Irish was a Golden Gloves phenom out of Lowell. He was a three times New England Gloves champ who went pro in 1985, winning 14 fights. His career slowed, but he returned to the ring in the late 1990s, and beat World Boxing Union light welterweight champ Shea Neary in London in 2000, taking the title.

Both Ward and Eklund will offer unique perspectives on how substance abuse impacts not only the addict, but those around him, said Rebecca Howes, manager of development and public relations at Day One. This is the first time they’ve hosted two guest speakers, she added.

The event normally attracts about 400 people, she said, and they expected similar numbers this year. It is planned for Nov. 1 at the Marriott Sable Oaks in South Portland.

On a personal note, I spent five great years in Lowell, working for the Lowell Sun in the late 1990s, when Micky was making his comeback. The Sun was the sponsor of the Golden Gloves in the city, and the late, great Paul Sullivan one year asked me if I’d take his place as ringside announcer – Paul was the paper’s marquis columnist, and he also had a Boston radio gig that precluded him from continuing the gloves job.

So for two years, I sat at ringside, announcing the fighters, the winners and other information. I sat next to Arthur Ramalho, the legendary Lowell trainer who ran the gloves and his West End Gym and who had trained Ward. He’d always nudge me, make sure I announced when Ward was in the audience (or other local celebs like, once, Doug Flutie). And he’d give me great boxing advice (as if I’d ever get in the ring), like “Kill the body and the head dies.” I’ll always remember that one – and hopefully won’t have to use it…

“The Fighter” was an excellent film, and it was also a treat for me to see several of the actual Lowellians whom I knew (and covered) on the screen – City Councilor Rita Mercier, Lowell Police Sgt. Mickey O’Keefe, and Art Ramalho.

I see from Ward’s official site that his autobiography comes out on May 29, entitled “A Warrior’s Heart.”

It should be a good read.