Jamel Herring will be fighting for many things in London when he gloves up and reps the U.S. squad at junior welterweight.
He will be representing his home base of Coram, Long Island, looking to be the first Islander since Howard Davis (1976) to bring gold back from the Games. The 26 year-old, who did two tours in Iraq, in 2005 and 2007, will be proudly fighting for the Marines, whom he fought alongside and relied upon for backup during bleak times in his life. He will be fighting for America, especially hard during these contentious times, when it seems like we are divided into two Americas, where we struggle to find common ideological ground.
But if he manages to win gold, and stand on a podium with that medal around his neck, when Herring looks up to the sky, he will be looking to the heavens, to his angel, his late daughter Ariyanah, who died in her crib on July 27, 2009, just two months old.
Sudden infant death syndrome claimed her, and many times between then and now, Herring, one of three captains on a nine-man, three-woman squad, felt his desire to compete lag. But he'd think of her, imagine her looking down at him, from heaven, and it would invigorate him. "She('s) my angel," he told me on the phone from training camp in Colorado Springs. "She keeps me on the right path." He makes sure to point out he will be competing with images of his two sons in his head, as well.
Herring won gold at the 2011 and 2012 Armed Forces Championships, gold at the team trials and also at the 2012 USA Boxing National tourney. He has quick hands and feet, and an in-and-out pro style. He will be focusing on keeping busy, trying to impress the judges to hit their button, and give him a scoring point, in London.
Camp, he reports, has been pretty smooth thus far. He got there June 27, and smelled the smoke from the massive swath of blazing fires in Colorado, but didn't see any flames. The squad, he says, is on the same page, and listening intently to late-coming coach Basheer Abdullah, who was picked the day before the squad was due to arrive in Colorado, after Joe Zanders, chosen as head coach in January, resigned in early April. "I don't blame anyone," he said. "I wish he was chosen sooner, but don't feel it will be a problem.
"We've had no problems with each other, we've bonded pretty well," he said. "As a family, all as one, of course there will be times we bump heads but as coach said yesterday, 'Talk it out.' I'm very proud we are the first team with female boxers, gold medal potential females. I am honored to have the three women on the team."
Herring is mindful that the nation is on unsteady ground. He's hoping the Olympics, and some boxing gold, can act as a bonding agent. "It can help people come together," he said. "On a lot of things, people are divided. Me growing up, most of the nation tuned in to the Olympics for a sense of pride in country. We didn't care if what we saw on TV were white, black, Hispanic. When we saw the colors, heard the anthem, we knew, 'My country did this.' With an election coming up, there are a lot opinions going on. The Olympics is that one time during the year we can put aside differences, and root for your country."