Near tragedy becomes blessing for American boxer Wilder
The left hook from
It was the kind of smoothly delivered punch you would expect from a more seasoned heavyweight such as
Wilder was just 19 years old the day his life changed forever. A baby-faced freshman at Shelton State, a small community college in Tuscaloosa, Wilder's focus was on trying to accumulate enough credits to enroll at the University of Alabama, where he hoped to play both football and basketball for the Crimson Tide. "I was good, too," said Wilder. "I had game. I know that I could have played for them."
But something happened on Wilder's road to stardom: His girlfriend,
School was out. "I found out pretty quick I couldn't keep care of my family and go to school," said Wilder. He finished his first year but never played a minute for the basketball team. Instead, Wilder took on two jobs, unloading trucks at Red Lobster in the mornings and working 12-hour shifts at a Mercedes plant in the afternoons. "I was working on a few hours of sleep a night," said Wilder. "I would get up as early as 8 some mornings, work until 2 then go to the Mercedes plant at 4 and work through the night."
Despite the long hours, Wilder would never complain. "I couldn't turn my back on my child," said Wilder. "I don't understand people who do that. People who do that always try to get back in their kids lives when they get older, but you can't do that. You have to be there from the beginning."
Wilder finally caught a break in 2006, when he met a supervisor at Budweiser while playing basketball in a YMCA league. Wilder was able to land a job at the beer company, which allowed him to quit his other two jobs, loading and unloading trucks. After a few months, he was promoted to driver.
"Man, they sent me everywhere," said Wilder. "I was going all over the state in that truck. And I never knew where I was going. I was always on the radio or looking at maps trying to get someone to help me figure out how to get to my stop."
With a few extra hours on his hands, Wilder's mind began to focus back on sports. "I always wanted to make a living playing sports," he said. With age and a lack of a scholarship offers working against him, basketball and football were out. But when a former classmate suggested he try his hand at boxing, Wilder -- no stranger to a fight -- jumped at the chance. "I used my hands a lot growing up," he said. "I had a reputation for that. I didn't look for trouble, but trouble found me. And I wound up in a lot of fights."
Wilder found his way to the Skyy Boxing Club in nearby Northport, where he learned the intricacies of the Sweet Science. It didn't take long. In his first fight, Wilder dropped his opponent with three punches. Not too long after, Wilder was a Golden Gloves champion. "Boxing, it grows on you," he said. "You know you're a boxer when you're fighting in your sleep or you look in the mirror and you're sparring with yourself."
These days Wilder spends most of his time in Colorado Springs, where he is training to become the first American heavyweight in 20 years to win a gold medal. He's won 29 of his 32 fights as an amateur, most by knockout. After several surgeries, his daughter,