Shawn Simpson carried a heavy burden last year, so he put on a few pounds.
If that doesn’t make sense, you’re not a boxer.
In the run-up to the Olympic Trials last year, Simpson did just that, running for miles in layered wetsuits while trying to shed six pounds because the road to glory seemed easier at 108 pounds.
It wasn’t. On top of losing weight, there was boxing itself. Sparring and sweating while hitting bags that got heavier as he got weaker. Addition by subtraction sounded easy, but it wasn’t.
Ultimately, Simpson made weight, but didn’t make it to London. He lost in the finals of the Trials, but learned a few things about the burden of high expectations while trying to lose five percent of his body mass.
“It’s takes you out of your fight mode,” recalled Simpson, who will fight at 114 at this week’s USA Boxing Championships. “You’re so focused on trying to make weight, it takes you out of your focus.”
That’s not a problem this year. The 19-year-old Simpson just won a gold medal at the Independence Cup in the Dominican Republic. That follows a Golden Gloves title last year.
“Now I feel like I’m in my real weight class,” said Simpson, adding that the ultimate joy of boxing is “getting your hands raised at the end of the fight.”
And while he’s proud of those titles, the tightly muscled, 5-foot-4 Simpson still fixated on his dream of reaching the Olympics. He worked as a sparring partner at the London Games, but it wasn’t the same thing as competing.
“First, I have to win this, then get more international experience. That would be great for me,” said Simoson, who’s ranked second in the United States.
“My dream is to win gold at the 2016 Olympics and be a world champion.”
A few years ago, the boxing gym was merely a safe refuge from the streets of Chicago. His father and brother were boxers, and they saw promise in Shawn.
“I just saw if I had a future in it, that I could be good,” Simpson said. “That made me stay with it.”
At the same time, he found another passion at Chicago Vocational Academy, which offered college prep courses in accounting. That’s the fallback if boxing doesn’t work out.
“I’d be in school studying to be an accountant if I wasn’t in boxing,” Simpson said.