By Alton Dunham (USAG Fort Huachuca)February 3, 2011
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Spc. Jeffery Spencer is headed to the 2012 Olympic trials, and he is going to win because it is his destiny.
The pundits certainly agree, the five-time All-Army boxing standout and current national champion is ranked number one in his weight class by USA boxing. Every other 178 pound boxer in the Army seems to agree; Spencer will be unopposed in his weight class at this year's All-Army tournament. His coaches also agree. When "The Fort Huachuca Scout" asked to interview a boxer who could make it to London in 2012, they instinctively pointed to him.
More importantly, Spencer himself agrees, and that is what drives him every morning he wakes up.
For a man with a self-declared destiny, Spencer isn't a cocky or brash pugilist like so many others in his sport. One won't hear him declare he is "the greatest" or that "he can't be beat." No, his concept of destiny is built around a life of struggles and sacrifices that eventually put him in the driver's seat of a potential pro career as a boxer.
Those who have the pleasure to see the 28-year-old compete will notice he holds the same routine before the bell sounds. He touches his heart, kisses his glove, then looks upward to acknowledge his God. Last, his gaze sets firmly on his opponent.
What appears to be an athlete mirroring the idiosyncrasies of so many others is more than that to the father of three. It's his humble reminder that he is in the ring to fulfill a destiny.
Each time Spencer touches his left pectoral muscle, he touches a tattoo of his grandmother, Lillie, to remind himself of who raised him. She and Spencer's grandfather, John Wilson, a former boxing coach, helped bring him up in Gary, Ind. in one of the worst neighborhoods.
"There weren't too many jobs available," Spencer remembers. "There was only crime or going to jail or getting killed."
"My grandparents raised me, and they saw a different future than that. They gave me an ultimatum. Go out and deal with that life, or go in the Army and get a career and get some structure."
Despite his grandfather's pleas to try boxing, it was a different experience that eventually drove the athlete into the ring.
After a street fight, a gym director challenged him to try boxing.
"I was like, [no way] my grandfather tried to get me to do that. Boxing is soft. They have gloves on," he said as he reluctantly accepted the challenge.
The king of the streets found out the hard way that fighting and boxing were worlds apart; he didn't even last one round.
"I knew right then that I wanted to be a pro boxer."
Spencer boxed for a year at the local Police Athletic League in Gary, before conceding to his grandparent's advice to join the Army and better himself as a person and as a boxer.
A decade later, before he passed, Wilson gave his grandson the advice that would catapult his career forever.
"Put all of your faith and trust in your coaches."
Spencer admits it was the final piece of the puzzle.
"Once I started to trust [Coach Basheer Abdullah's] vision and his knowledge of the sport and realized we are a winning combination, my career took off full speed."
Although All-Army boxing head coach Abdullah is world renowned for grooming some of the best amateurs in recent history, including the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials champion Christopher Downs, each athlete must find something within themselves to complement Abdullah's guidance.
"Spencer realizes that God blessed him with the tools [to be successful], and he sees me as one of those tools," Abdullah said.
For Spencer, his turning point occurred in 2004.
After a successful All-Army run in 2003, the food service specialist's in-ring career was derailed by a deployment to Iraq. While deployed, boxing became a memory, but the athlete would find another piece of the puzzle that would develop him into a world class competitor, his spirituality.
Spencer wasn't raised with Church on Sunday. During a difficult deployment that saw some of his buddies injured in mortar attacks and his commander's death, Spencer had what he called "a life-altering experience."
"Once we got in that situation, I had a revelation that I needed to get my life together. At the time, I was still wild, reckless."
That all changed mid-deployment, when he sought out the chaplain and in the 3x Armed Forces champion's words, "started walking a different path."
"Anything I am now doing, [I believe] it is because God put a path in front of me, and I intend to walk it proudly regardless of what the path is.
"When I came back from that deployment, I was hungrier to box. It made me want to achieve my goals. God made me survive this, I thought. Why should I not achieve my dreams'"
By 2007, the very good boxer started his journey toward becoming elite.
Between touching his heart, and paying homage to his God, the stand-out also kisses his glove.
"I will not overlook anyone," he admits. "You have to take everyone serious, and no one can be overlooked in this sport. All it takes is one good shot to end it.
"Once I am in the ring, my very first thought is I am going to make him [opponent] pay for his mistakes."
Spencer sees himself less a boxer, and more a vessel. He acknowledges his blessings, from surviving a tumultuous childhood, to coming home safe from an Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment. He gives credit to his team for making him better every practice, and his coaches for harnessing his natural talent.
He acknowledges the sport for turning his life around, and each time he squares off in the ring, he competes to as a way to say "thank you" to his family, and his God.
"Between God and my grandparents, I want to make them the proudest," he says.
"That is who I box for."
In a sport that is largely heralded as one-on-one, Spencer carries quite an entourage in his corner.
Although his amateur resume boasts four All-Army titles, three Armed Forces titles, a 2007 Olympic trials qualifier, and a Silver medal at the 2009 Golden Gloves, he knows he is still two bouts away from a chance at the 2012 Olympic Games.
"I know that in my heart, that is my spot. In my eyes, I am the favorite, in my coach's eyes, I am the favorite. That is all that matters.
"Anyone else that believes in me 'thank you.' If not, then you will see what happens in 2012."
And regardless of who ends up in front of him en route, the humble Spencer intends to make him pay.