Team USA Boxer Was Homeless at 21, Is Now a Champion with Olympic Dream | B/Real

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♪♪♪ Weighty, rhythmic tones ♪♪♪ – [Naomi Graham:] The best thing about boxing is just the sweet science. It’s a mental thing. I love the hard work. When I am winning, I know that those nights being homeless, being bullied, and everything that I have been through will always be with me. Going out there, I don’t really have any fears or any doubts because I know the only person that can beat me is me. And I will never forget what it took to get there. ♪♪♪ Slow keyboard and beats ♪♪♪ My name is Naomi Graham. I’m from Fayetteville, North Carolina, and I’m a boxer for Team USA. I compete in middleweight, which is 165 pounds, 75 kilograms. And I like to consider my style very unique. I don’t just compete one way. ♪♪♪ Upbeat ♪♪♪ – [Announcer:] Naomiii Graham! – I can box and move. I can walk you down. And I feel like I have a really good jab. – [Voiceover:] My name is Billy Walsh. I’m head coach of USA Boxing team. To become a boxer within this program, a boxer has got to have many, many qualities. Not only do you need to be able to fight, but you need to have a good lifestyle. We’ve got, you know, plenty of structure. ♪♪♪ Upbeat beats ♪♪♪ – [Graham:] A day in camp for Team USA looks like waking up at seven, weighing in, training, eating and doing strength and conditioning, training again and going to bed about nine. – [Walsh:] Most of the kids that’s in this program started boxing at seven and eight years of age. So they’ve been boxing a helluva long time. There is the exception to the rule. – [Graham:] I’m 30 years old, and when I started boxing, I was 22 years old. My mother, she looked at me as being fragile, her baby, the youngest. She didn’t really want me to box. ♪♪♪ Contemplative tones ♪♪♪ – I’m sitting out on the front porch at my house, where Naomi grew up. We been here about 20 years, I guess. My name is Bertha Clark. I’m living in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Naomi is my sixth child. She’s my baby, you know, and when she got into that profession, boxing, you know, I wasn’t for it at first. – [Graham:] My mother was a single parent. She put in a lot of hours to take care of six kids. – [Clark:] I was a battered, bruised wife. But God delivered me out of that. And, uh, the children—we come through together, you know. And we gon—we risin’ together. – [Graham:] Fayetteville is a military town. It’s pretty quiet. There’s a lot of boxing gyms to go to, and that’s where I spent a lot of my time following my sister Rachel to her practices. A lot of times I saw the blood, sweat and tears she put into it, and I wanted that. I wanted something to drive me just as much as it was driving her. – [Clark:] When you believe something and you got faith in your heart, that you goin’ do it and you put work toward it? You goin’ make it. – [Graham:] Being the youngest, I spent a lot of time to myself. For many years, I was bullied because I was so quiet. And my mother believed that that if someone is picking on you, you just tell the teacher —you don’t engage with the student. So because of that, I also got picked on even more. One time, I was forced to fight back, but I don’t consider myself violent outside of the ring. Inside of the ring, it’s a chess match. It’s, it’s more strategic. It’s, it’s not about violence. ♪♪♪ I got what it takes / I will never break / Always goin’ hard / No matter what they say / Man, I got what it takes / I will never break / Always goin’ hard / No matter what they say ♪♪♪ My next competition is the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. – [Walsh:] These Games in particular are important for Naomi. In boxing terms, it’s the third-largest in the world. You’ve got the Pan Ams, then we got the world championships, then we got Olympic Games. – Bienvenidos al Coliseo Miguel Grau. ♪♪♪ Upbeat vibes ♪♪♪ [Graham:] There should be three fights Each fight that you win, you would go to the next level, and the third fight should be the finals. I’m in Lima, Peru, and I’ve been here almost a week. I’m feeling very confident about this tournament. I’m excited. I’m ready to go ahead and get gold. I’m excited. – [Announcer:] Atención: Estados Unidos, categoría setenta y cinco kilos, cuartos de final. – [Second Announcer:] Naomi Graham! ♪♪♪ Rock guitar ♪♪♪ The winner, in the blue corner, from the USA… Naomiii Graaaham! – [Graham:] The hardest part of training is the mental. You could be the most talented boxer, but if you’re not there mentally, you can’t be successful. I’ve always been that type of person to —any adversity or any problems or difficulties, I feel like I need to handle them on my own. I became homeless when I was 21. My mother decided that I needed to get myself together and figure it out on my own. I found a home that was abandoned, and that’s where I stayed, mostly in the back room. Mostly at night is when I would go by the home. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, what I was going to do with my life, and I didn’t know what was the next step from there. A lot of the nights, I was in deep thought… of what I really wanted for myself and the person that I wanted to be. A lot of my decisions were made in the dark in the abandoned home. The last night that I spent in the home, homeless, I was in the back room, and I said, “This is it. You’re gonna be bigger than anyone else expected you to be.” ♪♪♪ Serious beats and tones ♪♪♪ Yesterday I got a second-round TKO, which is the stoppage, a win against Mexico. Now that I got the win yesterday, I am preparing for the semifinals against Brazil, tomorrow the 30th. [Cheering and sounds from the crowd] – [Second Announcer:] In the blue corner, for the USA, Naomiii Graaaham! ♪♪♪ Contemplative tones ♪♪♪ – [Graham:] The first step to changing my life after I was homeless was joining the Army. My first duty station was here in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Colorado Springs is where Team USA trains for boxing, but I didn’t know that at the time that I got stationed here. I said that I would just train on my own. Someone saw me in a gym, and they said, “Well, you’re in the military. You should go to All-Army.” So I went there, and you have to either beat a WCAP member and then place a top four at a national tournament. I did both. The first yes that I received was from WCAP. ♪♪♪ This is the World Class Athlete Program. This is actually where everything started, and this is where I’m training when I’m not with Team USA. A lot of hours spent on the speed bags. This is where the blood, sweat and tears started. It was very painful. [Laughing] [Crowd cheering] – [Voiceover:] My name is Joe Guzman, and I’m one of the volunteer coaches with the national boxing team. So I met Naomi Graham about five or six years ago. I was working as one of the assistant coaches in the World Class Athlete Program. [Graham:] I would be on the bag and saw him kind of looking at me, and he was saying, you know, “Do you have any fights?” You know, “I see potential in you.” – [Guzman:] One thing that really stood out to me from the beginning was just her work ethic. You know, everything she did, she did at, like, 100 percent. – [Graham:] Coach Guzman— he was very important to me learning myself as a boxer, to—what it would take to be on top. My highest point in WCAP was when I won the 2017 national championships. Once you win a national title, you’re automatically on Team USA from that moment on. ♪♪♪ Driving beats ♪♪♪ Tomorrow is the gold-medal bout, and I will be competing against Colombia. She’s more of an aggressive fighter, so I’m definitely gonna have to work my jab a lot with her and stay to my right. – [Second Announcer:] The winner on points and women’s middleweight, 75-kilogram gold medalist, in the red corner, from Colombiaaa… ♪♪♪ Fight / Fight / Fight / Stand up and fight / Fight ♪♪♪ – [Clark:] Sometimes, if you don’t push your child out, then you’re hindering them. Sometimes, in life, you need that struggle, you need that wrassle, you know. So you can know just how much to take or which direction you want to go. You know what I’m sayin’? – [Graham:] If it wasn’t for my mother, I couldn’t possibly be where I am today. She showed me, you know, that she was tough all my life. – What Naomi’s doing now pleases me because she spoke it back in the past and it’s coming to manifestation. And nobody can get where Naomi’s at without hard work, without some sacrifices, without some pain. – [Graham:] My tattoo is actually of my mother, and I just want to take her everywhere that I go. My right arm is my strong arm. That’s another reason why I got my tattoo on my right arm. – [Walsh:] I think boxing, you know, really, really tests your character. I think it actually builds character, tests everything that you have inside of you, you know, and I think it teaches you discipline, you know, and it teaches you manners. And it gives you a lot of qualities that will withstand you in life. – [Guzman:] The last five years for Graham, I mean, she’s really stepped it up. So I mean, she’s on a great path of making this Olympic team, for sure. – [Graham:] My ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics and win gold. The sky is the limit. And anything that you want to be in life, you can do that. And I want to show everybody that no matter what you’re going through, no matter anything that happens in your life, you can be whatever you want to be. ♪♪♪ Weighty, rhythmic tones ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Staccato synth ♪♪♪ [Forceful exhalations with each punch] – [Lisa Leslie:] Hi, Naomi. [Laughing] – [Graham:] Oh, my god. – [Leslie:] Surprise! – [Graham:] [Laughing] – [Leslie:] Are you OK? – [Graham:] Yes. – [Leslie:] What is it like for you, like, being in the ring and, and fighting? – You, you want me to show you? Get up and go through the ropes. – [Leslie:] I don’t know about all that. Let’s see. [Laughing] That’s what happens when you’re 6’5″. You just get in over the top. – [Graham:] Yeah. – So I know that you won silver, correct? – [Graham:] At the Pan American Games, yes. – [Leslie:] At the Pan American Games.
– [Graham:] Mhmm. – Which means you didn’t win gold, correct? – [Graham:] Yes. – So let’s talk about that just a little bit. Not because you lost. But I can tell you that people talked a lot about my accolades, of what I won, but it was the losses that really I held onto the longest that helped me win again. – I feel like it fuels my drive even more So really they feel like they’re winning, but they’re actually pushing me. So really they’re gonna be on the losing end. – That’s right! See, that’s it.
– [Laughing] Yes. – [Leslie:] I love that. – [Graham:] Yes. – [Leslie:] It has, it has to be your motivation. – Watching you dunk—that was, that was an amazing moment for me cuz I realized women can do anything that they wanna to do. It was an amazing moment. – Are you ready now to be a role model? Cuz when these young girls get a chance to see you, you’re gonna be in that same position—
– Definitely. – [Leslie:] —stoppin’ to sign autographs, yes. – [Graham:] Definitely. – It’s an awesome, uh, opportunity. ♪♪♪ Staccato synth ♪♪♪ – [Leslie:] So thank you so much. Best of luck. And I also want to say thank you for your service in representing our country. – [Graham:] It’s no problem at all.

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