Story originally posted on Syracuse.com Posted on September 18, 2017:
Winningest amateur boxer in U.S. history visits Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Cam F. Awesome, the No. 1 heavyweight amateur boxer in the United States, helped lead a workshop at the Central Village Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday. And boy, did he live up to his name.
The charismatic boxer joined his friend and former tournament roommate Srdan Lukic (pronounced Surgeon Loo-Kitch), who runs Fight For Hearts, an organization that promotes heart health through athletic training and healthy living.
Awesome is captain of the USA amateur boxing team and with over 300 fights under his belt, he gained worldwide attention for dubbing himself “the Taylor Swift of boxing.” His impressive record includes being a five-time U.S. Men’s National champion, a four-time National Golden Gloves champion, an Olympic Trials champion and a two-time Cheo Aponte gold medalist.
So, besides knowing Lukic, why did he visit the Boys & Girls Club?
“Most of my childhood that I can remember was spent at the Uniondale Community Council [a recreation center] on Long Island,” Awesome said. “All these kids really want is just someone to talk to, someone to pay attention. I think it’s great for them to see people who’ve done great things and who’ve come from where they’re from. And they can connect with me because I think of myself as a giant kid.”
His smile and positive energy was contagious at the event on Wednesday. Kids from ages 6 to 12 were jumping, performing battle rope exercises, shadow boxing and, most importantly, giving their hearts a workout.
The event was an opportunity for the kids to train like athletes and take home some healthy-living children’s books provided by the American Heart Association.
“The kids really enjoyed it,” said Jeff Eysaman director of the Central Village Boys & Girls Club. “We even went and invested in some boxing gear and they love it. This is an investment into the future.”
Lukic, or “Serge” as he is affectionately called by friends, runs four training programs, including a YMCA non-contact boxing workout and the youth program at the Boys & Girls Club. The youth workouts started in August and were so successful, Lukic and Eysaman agreed to continue the program into the school year.
Lukic even plans to teach the kids proper squatting technique, among many other skills, with hopes that he can provide a foundation for them to workout the correct way for the rest of their lives.
“With the kids, we not only improve their heart rate, but we teach them anaerobic exercises,” Lukic said. “Ninety-five percent of sports require explosiveness. Most of the kids can transfer these skills to basketball or football. A lot of the kids here like football.”
Another goal is to teach the kids about discipline, perseverance and accountability. The two boxers in charge have certainly undergone trials of their own, and they’ve seen boxing as a means to overcome those trials.
Lukic was born with a congenital heart defect in Bosnia’s Olympic city, Sarajevo. He underwent three heart surgeries by the time he was 12, the first of which put him into a monthlong coma. When civil war broke out in Bosnia, U.N. troops monitored him and looked for an opportunity to help him escape to the U.S. That opportunity came when he was flown to Syracuse at age 11 and underwent his final, successful heart surgery at Upstate University Hospital.
Lukic picked up boxing as a student at Syracuse University and found that his health improved drastically. He went on to have 54 bouts, becoming one of the top boxers to ever come from Syracuse. Today, he maintains a heart rate of 50 bpm using no medicine. He met Awesome at a tournament in Finland, but the two hadn’t seen eachother in six years, so the event was also a reunion.
Five years ago, Awesome won the Olympic trials but failed to provide paperwork specifying his whereabouts for the random drug tests. It’s what he described as a really tough time but ultimately provided the motivation he needed to have a fresh start. He even changed his name from Lenroy Thompson in 2012 as a way to “symbolically kill off” his old self. His story is the subject of a recent Netflix documentary, “Counterpunch.”
As for the Taylor Swift of boxing alias? “That was a one-time thing,” Awesome said, laughing.
He spent the rest of the week giving motivational speeches at local boxing gyms and high schools, and emcee’d the Rochester Vegfest on Saturday.
Wednesday’s event was an example what happens when two passionate individuals, one local and one from out of town, come together for the betterment of the community. Everyone walks away with a healthier heart.