After reading an obituary, I’m often shocked that such a full life took place right here in my community, and that I never knew about it until it was too late to meet the person who lived it. The obituary for David Shoulders was one of those stories. To me, it didn’t seem that a hundred words were nearly enough to tell the story. Imagine my joy, then, when a man from Denver called and said he wanted to tell me more of the story. “Coach” Copeland is a former boxer and current addiction counselor who owes his life to David Shoulders, and I was excited to hear the tale.
Hulond Copeland was fighting in underground bouts. “I’d go to East Side or Eight Mile, all over Detroit. We’d put on gloves and I’d beat people up.” One evening after such a fight, a man pulled up as Hulond was leaving McDonalds. “The guy leaned out the window and said, ‘Do you wanna fight?’ I thought he wanted to fight me at first, but he was asking me if I wanted to be a fighter. I got in his car and we went to see my mother. She was grateful for his offer. My father had passed a couple years before, and I was just an angry kid. He took me to the Johnson Recreation Center and watched me in the ring. From then, he didn’t just train me. He was in my head.”
“I wasn’t alone. He worked with a lot of young boxers, like Gary Martin and future world champion Anthony Jones.”
Shoulders wasn’t just a coach. Above he prepares for a bout of his own.
Although he never had a world champion title, Hulond Copeland had five national champion titles. He fought such men as Mike Tyson, and was mentored by Leon Spinks. After his professional boxing career was cut short by an eye injury, Hulond’s life took a turn. “I got messed up with crack cocaine. That addiction cost me my first marriage, my career and my freedom.”
Even with that, the wisdom he’d received from Dave Shoulders never left his mind. “He didn’t just teach us about boxing. He taught us about life. How to never quit. How to make a comeback. When I was sitting in that prison cell, I knew I had to reinvent myself. I made my business plan before I got out. They said I’d never be able to get my CAC (Certified Addiction Counselor) certification with my record. That just made me grind harder. Where did I learn to never give up? That crazy man who picked me up in a station wagon. Now I’ve got my CAC III certification and I’m out every day helping people. Failure isn’t final, and getting knocked down isn’t a big deal, so long as you get back up. Dave taught me that.”
“I visited Dave in Detroit after I got out. He looked at me and said ‘I taught you to be disciplined. What happened to you?’
I said, “I’m on track and I’m coming back…and I’ll lose the extra weight I’ve gained”
“Now I’m in Gardner, Kansas, to say goodbye to the man who saved my life, at least twice and probably more times than that. It’s not just about paying my respects. I need to be here; I’m supposed to be here.”
“I want everybody to know that Dave Shoulders was a teacher. He was a leader. He was the kind of man who told you the truth…everything…not by phone, not by text, but straight-up dead in your face. That’s who he was.”
I’m grateful to Coach Copeland for sharing more details about this aspect of Dave Shoulders’ life. There are two major takeaways that I left with. First, look for the stories. There are thousands of lives being lived out all around us. If you take the time to look, you’ll find them to be fascinating. Second, when you see an obituary, take note of the hyphen. When it says 1938-2019, the hyphen is shorthand for a long, interesting and fulfilling life.