In boxing we often hear sordid stories of unscrupulous characters that operate behind the scenes, and fighters that probably aren’t the best role models, other than their ability to box at the highest levels of the sport/business.
Although the same things happen in other professional sports, boxing seems to get always get the bad reputation of being somewhat of a home for the people you like watching on television but wouldn’t likely invite into your home for dinner.
Every now and then though a person comes along with a story that proves that the sweet science can also save lives and help to mold men and women into persons we can be proud of as well as look up to, in the ring and in life.
I was fortunate enough to meet one of those people recently. His name is Jamel “Semper Fi” Herring and he also happens to be The WBO World Junior Lightweight Champion.
His story is an inspiring one that although has it share of sadness and difficulty, is a story of perseverance and victory on the biggest stages of life, as well as within the day to day struggles that many of us face.
Born and raised in Coram, New York, Herring boxed as a teen but didn’t really see boxing as a way out of the tough circumstances he was in, including seeing some of his childhood friends hanging out on the streets, selling drugs, and even worse in some cases.
Fate had a better plan for Herring though and when a young man that he considered his best friend, Stephen Brown joined the Marines, it would prove to be a move that would also play in important part of the rest of the life of the young boxer. Reason being, was because when Stephen Brown completed his basic training and so forth, and was able to come back home to Coram, New York for the first time, he was able to convince a then seventeen year old Herring, that The United States Marines could be a good place for him as well.
Herring did in fact join the Marines and not long after he did, his best friend Stephen Brown died after a battle with lung cancer. It would be one of the first but not the last bouts of adversity that Herring would battle. A veteran of two deployments in Iraq, he also battled the horror of seeing many men and women who he had worked with, die while serving their country in the war in Iraq. He didn’t realize it at the time but the memories of life lived while at war and of the people he came to know that died there, would come back to haunt him later when he would be forced to battle (PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Then in 2009 he faced the worst situation any person could face when he lost his newborn daughter Ariyanah, who was born on May 25, 2009, Memorial Day, to sudden infant death syndrome. This threw him into a tailspin and he stopped training as well as socializing with his friends, and began drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism.
After spending months on a path of self-destruction he felt his daughter’s presence one day and felt she wouldn’t want to see him throw his life away, and he decided that he would turn his life around and fight harder in honor of his daughter.
He became a stronger, more determined person and fighter than before and before long won an Armed Forces Title, then a U.S.A. Boxing National Title, and eventually a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, where he represented our country in the 2012 Olympics. He would lose his first bout in the tournament but as the team captain of the US Boxing Team, displayed true leadership in encouraging and supporting his teammates, rather than sulking or making excuses.
He decided to go from the amateur to the professional ranks in boxing in 2012, and retired from The Marines at that time, in order to focus his full-time attention on his professional boxing career. Herring found mostly success in the professional ranks and was seemingly on his way to a world title shot, when he began feeling the effects of (PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, several years ago. This came in direct relation to his two tours of combat duty as a Marine, in his service to our country.
He initially struggled and suffered in his battle with PTSD, beginning to drink again and going through mood swings. He wasn’t successful at first because he felt it was just another battle he had to fight on his own, as he had wired himself to do for many years, and didn’t realize that PTSD was an opponent that he couldn’t beat alone.
His wife Jen was finally able to convince him to seek help in this battle and after taking that first step in admitting that this was a battle he may not be able to win alone, he began speaking to therapists and slowly making improvements.
It hasn’t been an easy battle and it’s an ongoing battle that these few paragraphs can’t begin to be able to sufficiently describe. Fighting is what Jamel “Semper Fi” Herring does best though, and he’s since been able to win more than lose in his daily battles with PTSD.
The greatest testament to Herring’s warrior spirit and refusal to give up, was his winning his first World Championship on May 25th of this year.
This special accomplishment was made extra special because it came on what would have been his daughter Ariyanah’s 10th birthday, as well as Memorial Day. Herring dedicated that win to his daughter’s memory and in an true gesture of graciousness, later returned the WBO belt he had just won to his vanquished opponent Masayuki Ito, in his dressing room.
What makes “Semper Fi” an American hero in this writer’s opinion is not the fact that he is a World Champion, but the fact that he was able to defy all odds and every difficulty he’s experienced in life, and still be able to accomplish such a great feat.
As well as his perspective that as a World Champion and someone who has been blessed with a second chance, it is his duty to give back to others who may be fighting the same battles. He does this by graciously and generously sharing his story and time with others every chance he gets.
He even recently traveled to Houston, Texas on his wedding anniversary, to share his story and spend time with military veterans who are also battling PTSD, at The PTSD Foundation of America/ Camp Hope, letting the unsung heroes there know that they also, are not alone!
You can catch Herring on ESPN Plus on November 9th, when he defends his WBO Junior Lightweight Title against Lamont Roach Jr.