Soldier athletes leave it all in ring
March 1, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- DeRae Crane was ready to fight Tuesday. He had already stopped Joshua Balbuena of Symona, Ga., in Sunday's preliminary bout. Tuesday's match would prove more difficult.
For the fourth time in his boxing career, Crane faced Sijuola Shabazz, a 178-pound light heavyweight fighter from Las Cruces, N.M.
As boxers, coaches, officials and fans filled the Special Events Center for the 2012 USA Boxing National Championships, Crane calmly sat in the manager's office, talking with other athletes, but mentally preparing for his upcoming match.
A Soldier in the World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Crane lost his three previous matches against Shabazz, but he said Tuesday would put an end to that trend.
"I'm ready," Crane said. "Today, he's in my backyard."
Nearly 500 athletes from across the nation traveled to the Mountain Post for six days of matches, which conclude Saturday.
WCAP's Jeffrey Spencer, also a Soldier from Fort Carson, defeated Brandon Larvadain from Michigan, 15-6 Sunday.
"I've been boxing for 10 years, consistently for four or five years," Spencer said. "I like the competiveness -- only the strong survive, at least that's the way it used to be."
Spencer faced Jerry Odom from Temple Hills, Md., Tuesday. He lost 22-19.
"I felt like I did great," Spencer said. "I did everything my coaches told me. I felt great going into it, but I guess the judges didn't think so."
Equally confident heading into the ring, Crane said he had home court advantage over his rival.
"There's the altitude and the fact that it's here at Carson," he said. "I'm sleeping in my own bed."
Crane began boxing when he was 10 years old to "keep out of trouble."
"I like the one-on-one competition and the discipline," he said.
For Crane, the sport of boxing was a convenient choice with a gym just eight blocks away from his home in Davenport, Iowa.
After completing college at the U.S. Olympic Education Center, Crane joined the Army to pursue his passion. Crane enlisted in 2010 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
"The Army allowed me to continue boxing," said Crane, now a first lieutenant.
Crane said he trains four to five hours a day, six days a week, sometimes seven.
In the Special Events Center, coaches, athletes and fans watched matches taking place on three rings. Coaches screamed at their athletes to be heard over the crowd as the fighters bobbed and weaved. As bout after bout took place, Crane focused on his match.
"Everyone gets a little nervous before a match," he said. "I like to do jumping jacks (to warm up)."
In the ring, Crane, dressed in blue, bumped gloves with Shabazz. For three, three-minute rounds, Crane and Shabazz jabbed, hooked and punched.
In the end, Crane lost 19-16.
"It's not an easy thing," Crane said. "We put in a lot of work. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears."