US boxer Cam F Awesome down to last shot at Olympic dream
Cam F. Awesome's sleepwalking gets worse before a big fight.
When he wakes up in a dorm hallway resting his head on a bag filled with socks, or when he learns that he taste-tested several energy drinks in a hotel lobby store and left without paying, he figures it's an unconscious coping mechanism for an ever-percolating mind.
''I should probably see someone one day, but I don't need someone to tell me I'm crazy,'' Awesome said. ''That's just how I deal with pressure.''
With his berth in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on the line next week at a tournament in Vargas, Venezuela, the U.S. heavyweight might be in for a few restless nights.
He's ready to handle it in the same inimitable style with which he reached the edge of his Olympic dream.
Four years after he wrecked his first shot at going to London by missing drug tests, Awesome is down to his last chance to qualify for the Rio Games. He almost certainly must win the entire qualifying tournament to avoid missing out on the Olympics again.
For the past four years, Awesome's Olympic aspirations have driven a personal reinvention that led to devout veganism, a standup comedy career and even an eye-catching name change for the former Lenroy Thompson.
But now that he's one loss away from missing out on Rio, the U.S. team's most charismatic fighter is thinking soberly about his future.
''I hold it together because I've mentally tricked myself into (thinking) everything is going to be OK, and that's how I live,'' Awesome said. ''I can control everything. There's never any pressure on me. But the closer things get, I'm great in everyday life, but I sleepwalk more and more.''
The 27-year-old Awesome is the self-appointed captain of Team USA, which is hoping for a resurgent performance in Rio after the men failed to win a single medal in London. Six men and two women have already clinched spots in Brazil, but Awesome failed to qualify last week on a trip to Azerbaijan, forcing him to travel to the last-chance qualifier in Venezuela along with light heavyweight Jonathan Esquivel and welterweight Paul Kroll.
''Not the happiest with my performance (in Azerbaijan),'' Awesome said. ''I wish I had given it a little more so I wouldn't have to be going to a place without food.''
Awesome felt he deserved a decision over Ecuador's Julio Cesar Castillo Torres in Azerbaijan, but he has been an Olympic-style boxer long enough to accept the razor-thin margins of victory in most three-round fights. A good sense of humor is helpful for the many maddening aspects of his chosen sport, and humor is something Awesome has in abundance.
He has been doing standup for three years, ever since he took the stage at a club in Kansas City, the Long Island native's adopted home. He did a few sets in Reno during the U.S. Olympic boxing trials in December, and he even performed at a marijuana shop in Colorado Springs right before his trip to Azerbaijan.
Awesome has seen many far corners of the world during his Olympic quest with the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which usually holds its big events far from Western fans. On the way home from Azerbaijan, he flew through the Istanbul airport less than 48 hours before three suicide bombers killed 43 people at the same international terminal.
A teammate alerted Awesome to the terror attacks, and the boxer could only shake his head at the surreal nature of his pursuit.
''I am not OK with dying unless it's my choice,'' Awesome said. ''I would like to maybe stick around for a couple hundred years. Dying in Istanbul, no one (in the U.S.) would really know where it was. That's not where I want to end my legacy. I'm going to try to stick around until maybe 87.''
Even with the stark reality of his trip to Venezuela, Awesome has kept his sense of humor about his Olympic predicament - and about his sleepwalking.
If he wakes up again surrounded by spoonsful of peanut butter, or if he realizes that he started to cook something in his sleep, he'll see it as a sign that his mind is ready for his body's task.
''It's been suggested that I see someone about it, that I might sleep better,'' Awesome said. ''But I'm not violent in my sleep, so I'm not going to open that. I've talked to people who say it might be something from my childhood, something you're suppressing. But if my brain is smart enough to hide something, I'm not going to go out of my way to find it. I don't want to know what my brain is hiding from me.''