The 21-year-old Marcus Browne will leave Staten Island, N.Y., where he still lives with mom Doris Jeffrey and stepfather Patrick Brown, for the Olympic Games on June 27, when he will begin a two-week camp ahead of the tournament. On the journey overseas, it's a safe bet he will periodically flash back to when he was a kid, before he followed his pal N'wachi Hartley in 2003 to the gym, how he cruised the neighborhood looking for trouble ... and he will remind himself how far he has come.
Now, if the kid didn't have some stubbornness in him, the good kind, he might have gotten a taste of the ring and never come back. Browne used to see Hartley, nicknamed "Speedy," hustle out of his building with his gym bag on his shoulder, day in, day out, at 4:30 p.m., to go to the gym for sparring.
Marcus asked him what that was. I'll show you, "Speedy" promised. Marcus went to the gym and got thrown in the deep water right away. A body shot from a bigger kid, schooled in the art, had him almost crying. Many, if not most, kids would have been one and done. But Browne came back the next day, and the day after that, and kept coming back even after Hartley was hit by a car and killed as he was walking to the gym in 2008.
Browne wouldn't promise me he'd come back to SI with gold, but it's no secret that he craves it, that he knows what it would mean to him and his family. No, it's not 1976, a gold medal doesn't translate into a windfall signing bonus and a title shot within three years. But Browne would like to experience standing on that podium holding that winner's medal aloft. "I'm not cocky, but confident," he said. "I'm not going to say I might lose, settle for silver. I know I have what it takes to win gold, but I got to put the work in. I've put my foot in my mouth a couple times, and don't like the feeling."
I loved the wisdom the kid showed me during a 20-minute chat; it seems like he has learned from his missteps, and that is such a stellar trait to have. Most of us have to learn and re-learn lessons multiple times with negative reinforcement. Browne already got a little taste of the reverence that can come with attaining a hard-fought goal; last Monday, Twitter informed him that his account was tagged with the "verified" tag. No one cares if some dirty little kid who runs around bullying the weaker links on the playground is "verified." So Browne has already come a million miles from where he used to be. If he wins gold in London, his character, dedication and mettle will be verified that much more.