By Ms. Brittany Nelson (IMCOM)December 23, 2019
Staff Sgt. Naomi Graham was crowned the champion of the women's 75kg weight class at the 2019 U.S. Boxing Olympic trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Dec. 17.
"I feel amazing," said Graham, a boxer in the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program. "I just accomplished something I had only dreamed about. I feel a rush of overwhelming happiness."
Graham, a two time U.S. National Champion, had a comeback this year after falling short at the 2015 U.S. Boxing Olympic trials.
"At the 2015 trials Graham said to me 'I am going to win the 2019 trials,' and tonight she fulfilled that promise," said Willie Wilson, WCAP program director. "It's great to see Soldiers commit to something and put in the hard work and dedication to achieve it."
Graham mentioned that a big part of her excitement was the fact the she won while representing the U.S. Army.
"It is an awesome feeling," said Graham. "I am representing something way bigger than myself.
Once Graham made her way into the semifinals, she won due to her opponent not showing up to fight. She faced the same boxer in the finals because the tournament was double elimination.
"I knew Graham was going to dominate in the finals when the girl didn't show up for their semifinal bout," said Charles Leverette, WCAP boxing head coach. "Graham was focused, she listened to us, and she executed to come out victorious."
Leverette has coached Graham throughout her journey at WCAP.
"I remember the first time I saw her at the All-Army camp," said Leverette. "We saw her talent and athletic ability. I used to preach to her that when her skills catch up with her will, she'll be impossible to beat. She turned out tonight to show that was true."
Leverette said he was ecstatic when they announced Graham as the champion.
"I just went blank," said Leverette. "It was a great feeling. It has been a long time coming and now it is time for us to push her forward to make sure she solidifies her spot (on the Olympic team)."
Graham is headed to Bulgaria Jan 17-26 where she will be evaluated against other international boxers in her weight class before they announce the official Olympic team.
"We went through the same process last year and I received gold, so I am going in very confident," said Graham.
Graham is an elite athlete, but she is also Soldier. Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Downs, WCAP boxing coach, says that being a Soldier and an athlete go hand in hand.
"The discipline and attention it takes to be a Soldier, especially during trying times, translates over to being an athlete," said Downs. "Our Soldier-athletes have a lot of experience dealing with adversity and challenge. That's what we instill in the Army, to achieve and to win and that's what they show in the ring."
Over the years, Graham has advanced in her military career to a staff sergeant. This is a great accomplishment for any Soldier according to the WCAP Commander, Cpt. Bryce Livingston, who was at the trials cheering on Graham.
"Just her rank alone shows what kind of person Graham is as a Soldier and an athlete," said Livingston. "I think Graham in particular, is really what we look for as a Soldier-athlete. She gets it done and tonight (at the trials) she definitely got it done."
Graham is a noncommissioned officer which means she is able to lead Soldiers who are a lower rank than her.
"Being in charge of Soldiers was something I wanted to do," said Graham. "I wanted to get promoted so I can give back to younger Soldiers and be a mentor."
Also among the crowd cheering on Graham was Installation Management Command's previous Command Sergeant Major Melissa Judkins.
Judkins was in contact with IMCOM's Acting Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, and he said he was extremely proud of Graham and the WCAP team.
"It's a good feeling to hear the leadership in the crowd," said Leverette. "I know they are just as excited as we are. It is great to showcase our work in front of them."
Graham is now back at her duty station of Fort Carson, preparing for the final selection tournament in Bulgaria.
Sgt. Adrian Tillman also competed at the trials in the men's 95kg weight class but did not make it to the finals.
WCAP is part of the U.S. Army's Installation Management Command and allows top-ranked Soldier-athletes to perform at the international and Olympic level while also serving their nation in the military. For more information, visit www.armywcap.com