Smith was selected to manage the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team at the Beijing Olympics. It was the worst performance for American since 1948.
“They probably won’t invite me back,” Smith said. It was hard to tell if he was joking or sincere, or if he cares or not. He is the type of person who seems to place more value on lessons learned than medals earned.
“We didn’t do well.”
The U.S. won one medal.
Smith said the youngest American boxer was 16 years old and the oldest was 22. They were competing with Russians, Europeans and Cubans who were 30 to 32 years old.
“You’ve got a boy’s strength versus a man’s strength and it makes a tremendous difference,” he said. “I want to tell you things I learned from my boxers that I put in my toolbox.”
He told the story of heavyweight Deontay Wilder who taught Smith about honesty.
“I’ll never forget what he said to me: In a moment of decision, the best thing to do is the right thing and success will follow,” Smith said.
Wilder was a 20-year-old freshman basketball player at the University of Alabama until he made a bad choice and his girlfriend became pregnant.
“Deontay decided he wanted to do the right thing, so he was going to stay with his girlfriend. He was going to marry her and he was going to take care of that baby,” Smith said.
The baby was born with spina bifida. Wilder dropped out of school and got two jobs to support the baby. His wife left him alone in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“He and his mother are raising a baby that’s got spina bifida,” Smith said.
Wilder, who had always been athletic, began gaining weight.
“He walks into a boxing gym in Tuscaloosa just to lose some weight,” Smith said. “Sixteen months later, Deontay Wilder made the United State Olympic team — unheard of — you just don’t do that. Six months after that, he’s standing on the medal stand in Beijing, China, with the only boxing medal the United States won in 2008.
Wilder is now boxing professionally and doing well, according to Smith.
Smith said he also learned about perseverance from the young people in his life. He told the story of Brian Brewer, who was the very first Youth Community Action Program graduate in Chattanooga. Y-CAP works with students between the ages of 10 and 14 who are referred by juvenile court or schools.
Brewer, 22, was raised by his mentally challenged mother who functions on the level of an 8-year-old. The young boy acted out and got in trouble all through middle school.
“We took him into our Y-CAP program,” Smith said. “He struggled because he was behind.”
The education plan for Brewer lead to a special education diploma. The principal, counselor and all the teachers signed off on the boy’s education plan. Everyone except the boy. He refused to sign the education plan and left a stream of expletives behind him as he ran out of the room.
“I’m not going to be like my mom,” he told Smith. “I’m going to get a regular diploma. Three years later, Brian got a regular diploma. Not only did he get a diploma. He went on to get a college scholarship, played college football and now he’s back working with us because Brian understood what perseverance is.”