NANJING, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- In a nearly 1,000-square-meter gym in east China, a dozen children in boxing gloves roared and pounded punching bags, as their Croatian coach Goran Martinovic paced back-and-forth, pepping up the little ones to shout a bit louder.
Situated inside the Suzhou Center, the largest shopping mall in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province, the boxing gym was opened by 33-year-old Martinovic, who is a former Croatian boxing champion and has also won titles in Europe.
Almost every day at 6 a.m., the nearly 2-meter-tall boxer comes to the gym and leads his trainees for morning exercises. His gym is well-received among locals, as about 500 people have enrolled in boxing training courses, including over 60 Chinese kids.
Martinovic's reputation was not built in a day. He recently held a charity boxing match, the 'Suzhou Showdown' this month as the epidemic wanes in China, which saw 14 fighters from various countries participate, including a 16-year-old teenager with autism who loves to box.
He donated all 100,000 yuan (about 15,000 U.S. dollars) of the proceeds from the boxing festival to a charitable organization in Suzhou, which helps five severely ill children from local communities.
It is the eighth time that Martinovic has hosted such a charity boxing event. In 2015, the retired boxing star first came to Suzhou to help his brother set up a charity boxing event as a coach.
"It was a big success and we donated all the funds to a local girl with cleft lips and palates," said Martinovic, noting that he then decided to live in Suzhou and organize charity boxing events every year.
"Now more than 300,000 yuan has been raised to give hope to the kids with severe illness," Martinovic said. He also donated a boxing ring to a school in Suzhou Industrial Park, and has volunteered to teach students boxing courses.
"Love is stronger than fists," said Martinovic, who hopes that through these unselfish behaviors, more people can engage in sports and lend a hand to those in need.
In 2017, Martinovic opened his first gym in Suzhou, coaching white-collar workers boxing and wrestling. He also coaches impoverished kids free of charge.
His second gym opened in the Suzhou Center last year, when he won the Jiangsu provincial government friendship award, the highest honor the province can bestow on a foreigner.
The Croatian felt he wanted to offer assistance when the epidemic broke out in China early this year. He allocated his resources in Europe, and donated as many as 20,000 medical masks to Suzhou. "Suzhou is my second home and I knew that we would get through this fight together and win," he said.
"After all this, everyone will pay more attention to physical health and love life more," Martinovic said.
His boxing business has gradually returned to normal and he plans to make his gym bigger as more Chinese people are discovering a passion for boxing.
"The past few years have seen changes. At first, Chinese parents normally didn't allow their kids to learn boxing, but now kids are encouraged to box and stand in the ring, to shape their body and minds," Martinovic said.
"I will continue to teach people boxing in China, making it more popular, and hope to spread more love through the sport," he added.