Boxing with Sunshine: Local Legend Dale “Sunshine” Frye Whips ONC’s Publisher and Editor Into Fighting Shape

by Amy Phariss, Photography by: Mollie Tobias

On any given Tuesday, around 4 PM, I pull into the gravel parking lot of a nondescript building in Aberdeen, NC. Parking next to my publisher’s car,
we both get out and assess the situation: we wear yoga pants and running shoes, have our hair pulled back from our faces and look, well, scared

We’re about to go into the kind of gym men work out in who have beards, bulging biceps and disdain for anyone who might be using 8 lb. weights to work their decidedly non-bulging biceps. These are men who jump onto wooden boxes, squat down and jump off again. They lift heavy weight and throw it onto the floor, sweating profusely and listening to heavy metal music. Occasionally women come into this gym and drag heavy weights across the floor or do legit, no-knee pushups in rapid succession. 

What, then, are two middle-aged women doing standing outside the back door, in a yard full of enormous tires and other rogue workout gear? How do two women who have histories of Pilates, yoga and ballet find themselves pulling open the metal door and stepping into a room full of bars, kettle balls and boxing bags? Why, at our ages, do we think this is any place to start a new type of workout that we’ve never done, don’t fully understand and look downright ridiculous engaging in?

Why? Because life is short. Because the same old thing gets boring. Because we never know what might happen when we take on a new challenge, get out of our comfort zone or throw our bodies a giant curve ball. 

But more than any of that…more than the challenge and going bolding into uncharted territory…the reason Amy 1 (Amy Natt) and Amy 2 (Amy Phariss) are willing to open the door and sweat for 1.5 hours in front of the kind of men who go after the world’s bad guys comes down to three words:
Dale ‘Sunshine’ Frye.

When Amy 1 texted Amy 2 a few months ago and asked if she wanted to do some kickboxing classes, Amy 2 hesitated. Amy 2 takes ballet classes and stretches herself out on a foam roller and sometimes gets on a mini trampoline in her garage and dances around to Top 40 hits. Amy 2 doesn’t sweat a whole lot or lift heavy weight, so kickboxing sounded a little…well…taxing. 

But then Amy 1 mentioned that said boxing classes would be under the tutelage of Dale ‘Sunshine’ Frye, local boy turned Hollywood stuntman and kickboxing champion. 

Amy 2 said: Count me in.

When I first met Dale at the gym, he was both exactly what I expected and nothing like I’d expected. He met my expectations of being super fit, lithe, light on his feet and able to run up the side of a dirt hill without issue (Amy 1 could also run up that hill; Amy 2 could not). Dale surprised me, however, in other ways. He is full of smiles, motivating sentiments, jokes and laughter. He isn’t the serious, grim-faced boxing instructor I imagined, randomly hitting me in the ribs to toughen me up and asking me, “Do you want to be a victim?” (I might have had a horse trainer ask me that once, in the desert of Arizona, with a wild-horse coming toward me). 

Dale is all smiles. He’s a pat on the back, quick half-hug to get started, and he calls us all sorts of folksy, endearing names like “Baby Love” and “Hot Rod,” that make our workouts seems less like a suck-fest and more like an after-school special that just happens to involve bobbing and weaving and a proper boxing stance. He’s focused on form, doesn’t let us cheat and doesn’t dumb it down, but he’s never discouraging, overwhelming or negative. He’s the kind of trainer who inspires you to push a little harder, to face your fears and to reach for goals that seem entirely unattainable now but which,
with consistent effort and determination, you
will totally conquer.

In short, if there is anyone who can take a middle-aged mom from Grade 1 (his words) to graduation, it’s Sunshine. We sat down with Dale Frye and asked him a few questions about his kickboxing days, his film career and what he thinks of training a couple of moms, neither of whom – at the time of this publication – can do a full pull-up.

This interview has been edited for length. 

Amy Phariss:  What do you think about teaching a couple of middle-aged moms to box? 

Dale Frye: (smiles, pauses) You guys signed up for something that’s really hard. Boxing is very physical. 

AP: Why do people train in boxing?

DF: Stress relief, a good workout and just the love of the game. I have some kids who just want to learn how to fight. 

And I think there’s a bond with men when they work hard together, when they do something physical like boxing together.  

Also, all the boxing and MMA fighting on TV has struck a cord with a lot of people. A lot of girls like it. I referee fights now, and girls go together, just a group of them. At a UFC fight, girls will just get together as a group and go.  

AP: What do you like about training people? 

DF: Back in the day, when I was fighting, I never wanted to train. I’d help people but I never wanted to train. I was a fighter, not a trainer. But my friend owns a gym, so I got into it. I like that each person is different. They have different strengths and weaknesses and different personalities. I like the challenge of that. 

AP: What do you dislike most about training people?

DF: There was a woman I trained for a while, and if she didn’t pick something up quickly, she’d start moaning and whining. It was hard for me to get over that. She wanted to be good but her attitude was stopping her. 

AP: Do you think there is a difference in training men and women?

DF: Yes. But you know…on second thought, I think it’s just so individual. Each person is unique and trains differently.  A lot of guys – but a lot of girls as well – have got a lot of preconceived notions. I’ve got a guy, been kickboxing for a long time, we used to spar some and work out back in the day. When I started training and he came under my wing, I realized he was very limited. He had a few things
he did, and that was all he did. He was reluctant at first because he was used to doing things a certain way. He’s been open to changing it up, and that’s been refreshing. 

AP: Let’s talk about your role as a stuntman on major films. What was your favorite movie you worked on? 

DF: Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Dam. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and III. The Notebook.

They’re all pretty fun. You get to hang around with some pretty cool people. It was cool when I met Kevin Costner. I’d been watching him a good long time, and it was cool to meet him and shake his hand. Ryan Gosling – nicest guy I’ve ever met in
my life. 

AP: How did you get started in the movie industry?

DF: Kickboxing opened up a big door for me. My brother Bruce was a musician back in the day. He was playing music at a bar in Wilmington. A guy came in once to the bar, and he was a special effects producer, and my brother Bruce and his friend got a part in that movie and told them about me. So I went down to Wilmington to audition for that and got the part. Then it just went from there. 

AP: Do you still work on movies?

DF: Yeah, I still do it. I’m not actively pursuing it but I still do it.  Had to get two brand-new hips three years ago. It’s like a new lease on life. 

AP: Was it hard to recover from?

DF: No. 

AP: Do you attribute that to being in shape?

I think it helped, sure. I did all the rehab and had family help during my recovery. You hear good stories and bad stories about hips, but my experience has been positive all the way around.

AP: Is there anything you did in your 20s that you can’t do now?

DF: (nods) I used to jump off stuff. Jump off houses and stuff. I’m somewhat limited now because of my hips, but just a little.  

AP: What do you think it takes to be good at boxing? 

DF: You got a lot going on right there. You have to not mind getting hit. Everyone wants to box until they get hit upside the head one time. And as you’re starting to find out, it’s physical. It takes a lot to box. Physical. A lot of people say it’s 10% physical and 90% mental, but I don’t believe that. It’s physical. You’ve got to be in shape. Fighters will lose a fight because one guy is in better shape than another guy. I noticed when I was training, mentally when you know you can go 12 rounds at full-speed, you don’t have to worry about it. So being in physical shape means you don’t worry.  

I had one fight. I fought a kid in Fayetteville…he was the toughest fight in my life – and it was the only fight in my life that I just had to lay around the next day and do nothing. He just kept coming. He just kept coming. I had to fight hard for 12 rounds. I had bruises. He was cut in several places. It was just a hard, hard fight. 

AP: Who won?

DF: I did. I was defending my title actually. 

AP: Is there a loss that stands out to you?

DF: When I lost my title in Atlantic City, I was sick. I had to weigh in at 135, and I had to lose some weight. That was hard. A week or two before a fight, because you’re doing everything you can to make weight, my whole immune system was weak. If I sat next to someone who had a cold, I’d get it. I would have to go a whole 24-hours without eating or drinking anything. It was hard for me to get to 135. As soon as I stepped off the scale, I’d start drinking.  When I lost my title, we weighed in sooner, and I didn’t have that 24-hour period to recover a little. 

I also won some fights when I was sick. But every fight I’ve lost, it’s been because I wasn’t 100%. I was sick. Had something going on. But that’s part of it.  

AP: Before we go, can you leave us with one final thought? What is the biggest limitation people have in terms of being in shape or doing what they want to do physically?

DF: Probably their mental attitude. That’s the beautiful thing about working out. I like to workout. I enjoy it. A lot of people don’t. That’s probably why I did as well as I did kickboxing and am as healthy as I am now.  

Sunshine’s Tips for Getting Into Shape Even if You’re Starting in Grade 1

  • 1. Don’t do any exercise that hurts. There are plenty of alternatives, and work with someone who knows how to cater a workout for you. If we do an exercise that hurts your back, for example, there are a lot of exercises we can do to compensate. 
  • 2. There is always an exercise for everyone. Some people need to just swim. I’m a big fan of riding a bicycle. Some people can do weights.  
  • 3. Build strength gradually. It takes time. Be patient and keep working
  • at it. 
  • 4. Be consistent. When I think of how I worked up to 12 rounds of boxing, it’s amazing. I didn’t start out that way. I thought going three rounds…well, I thought that was tough. But then I just kept going, and in the end, anyone who fought with me knew they had to go the whole 12 rounds. 
  • 5. Listen to your body. There will be things you can do and can’t do. Your body will tell you.