They called him White Lightening.
He was the best amateur heavyweight boxer in the Midwest.
But that was before the 1979 motorcycle accident when he lost his right leg. Since then, Gene Schultz, 35, of St. Paul, has been trying to make it back on one leg. He’s had to fight resistance from boxing officials, and he’s been sidetracked by depression and personal problems. But today Schultz is in training once again — preparing for a comeback in 1993.
“If I can motivate myself, I know I can do very well,” Schultz said. “I see these people on TV and I know I can beat them. I believe God wants me to fight and win on one leg to show people what a person can do if they believe in God and they believe in themselves.”
The story begins in 1974 when Schultz — a tough, wild 18 year-old —was still fighting on the streets of St. Paul and experimenting with drugs. At the old downtown YMCA in St. Paul, which he had recently joined, Schultz would be quizzed about his bruises by several local boxers. They encouraged him to take up boxing as an outlet for his aggressions. Yet Schultz resisted. “It sounded like too much work, ” he said.
But after convictions on two felony crimes, Schultz realized his friends at the YMCA had been right. He needed a way to channel his aggressions and a focus to clean up his act. So he started boxing.
In 1978, at 6 foot 1 1/2 inches and 197 pounds, Schultz won the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves tournament, reigning as amateur heavyweight champion over his competitors in Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and part of Wisconsin. In 1979, he repeated the feat.
Confident from his recent successes and eager to try something new, Schultz decided to join the Navy. An hour after he left the recruiting office, he was in a motorcycle accident. His ankle was severed and his leg was mangled to the knee.
“While I was still lying in the street, I knew I’d lose my leg,” Schultz said. “I realized right then that God didn’t want me to go into the Navy but he wanted me to help inspire people by going back into boxing.”
If Schultz could do it, he would be the first one-legged boxer to compete on the amateur circuit. He was so confident he could, he wrote this poem while still in the hospital:
“I’m back and I’m bad. I’m bountiful, I’m beautiful. I’m white and that’s alright. I hit hard, I’m frightening. My name is White Lightening. Now I’m White Lightening and I may be the latest, but everyone knows That God’s the greatest.”
Schultz began his training during his 16 weeks in a body cast. He’d walk the streets of his neighborhood and do pull-ups on a jungle gym at Jackson Elementary School across the street from his house. Once the body cast was off, he toughened his stump by walking on his knees in the sand along the beach at Lake Phalen and by hitting a boxing bag with the stump.
“Before I was even fit for the fake leg, I was back in the gym sparring on one leg with the other fighters and working out at the YMCA to get back into shape,” Schultz said.
The amateur boxing commission resisted when Schultz asked to be permitted to compete again, fearing for his safety. But the commission relented after an outpouring of public support and an exhibition match in which Schulz demonstrated he could fight, Schultz said.
However, six fights later and two weeks before the 1981 St. Paul city boxing tournament, the commission reversed itself ruling that it was in Schultz’ best interest not to compete.
“I was depressed and angry and got sidetracked for a while.
I started smoking and got into drugs and alcohol,” Schulz said.
Meanwhile, Schultz dabbled in other sports as well — downhill skiing, marathons, triathlons and cliff diving. And he kept working out at the YMCA — weight training, swimming, using the rowing machine and shooting baskets.
“Through all the ups and downs, the YMCA has been the best part of my life. It’s been the one constant. I can always go there and know I’m doing something good for myself even when other things in my life are not going well. There’s always a lot of support from the staff, and I’ve got a lot of friends there,” Schultz said, adding that the Skyway YMCA is easily accessible.