Cam F. Awesome continues chasing dream of Olympic gold with a new name, new attitude
Lenroy Thompson had a problem. A major problem, really, one that might be impossible to solve.
It went beyond the fact that he'd lost his spot as the super heavyweight on the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team for failing to report his whereabouts to the United States Anti-Doping Agency three times in an 18-month span.
It went well beyond the fact that he'd lost his sponsors, his health care and, in many ways, his dignity.
With no other ideas about how to earn a living, he went to work in Kansas City's Ringside Gym and taught people how to box. As a personal trainer, though, he wasn't his best advertisement.
"After I got suspended, I just ballooned way up in weight," he said. "I got way up there, all the way up to about 270 pounds. And here's the thing: You can't be a fat personal trainer. Believe me, if there is anything I am certain of, it's that. You cannot be a fat personal trainer. It was the only road I could take job-wise that had some flexibility and that I at least liked a little bit.
"In my mind, at that time I was done with boxing. So this was going to be my life, training people, getting them in shape. But I was handing my card to overweight people telling them I'd get them in shape and I was as fat or fatter than most of them. They'd look at me like, 'Who's this fat dude who thinks he can tell me how to get into shape?' I wasn't exactly the body type one associates with a personal trainer."
Thompson, though, handled it, well, awesomely.
And now, 15 months later and three months after his suspension ended, he's a different man.
He's 220 pounds, once again boxing, and has racked up 13 wins in a row including several major tournaments. He's a frontrunner to be the Olympic super heavyweight representative on the U.S. team in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Most importantly to him, he changed his life in virtually every way. He became a vegan, and embraced the lifestyle so much that he changed his Twitter handle to @plantbasedboxer as a paean to the work he's done with Bill and Ami Mackey in Kansas City.
He's a friendly, exuberant 23-year-old who was courageous enough to do stand-up comedy during his suspension.
As the suspension ended and he realized he still could win the gold medal that he'd dreamed would be placed around his neck as the Star Spangled Banner blared in London, he wanted to rid himself of all vestiges of his former life.
He was not allowed to wear a nickname on his shorts in amateur boxing competition, so he decided to change his name so that he could.
And thus, Cam F. Awesome was born.
"During that year I had to take off, that guy who was [suspended] rotted away slowly and died," he said. "And out of the cocoon came awesomeness. ... You can figure out the rest."
He went by the first name Cam, even when he was Lenroy Thompson. But, he was asked, what does the F stand for?
If you thought, Cam [Bleeping] Awesome, you're not alone. And you wouldn't be wrong. But, you wouldn't be right, exactly.
"The F is whatever you want it to be in your imagination," Awesome said. "Fun. That's good. Family. Another good thought. Friend? Yep. Frog Eyes? Ok, too. But that other one you guessed? [Bleeping]? Yeah, that's good, too. I like how that sounds: Cam [Bleeping] Awesome."
Awesome's life has been nothing but awesome since he returned to the game. His coach, John Brown, remained with him throughout his suspension and was impressed with the way Awesome handled the adversity.
He never complained and didn't run away from the issue, though Awesome admits his trips to the local store got fewer and more far between because he wearied of having to repeat the story of why he wasn't in London over and over and over.
Brown owns Ringside Boxing, a major equipment manufacturer, and the gym where Awesome trains. Brown was former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison's amateur coach and turned Morrison professional.
Awesome doesn't have the Adonis-like physique that Morrison had, but Morrison couldn't touch Awesome when it comes to mental toughness and overcoming the adversity that all high-level athletes eventually face.
"Mental toughness is a very important trait for a boxer," Brown said. "It's easy when you're winning and everything is going your way. But when the guy on the other side is good, when the breaks maybe go against you, that's when you have to fight through.
"In my 25 years, I've trained more than 5,000, maybe more than 6,000 kids. No one, not a single one of them, had the mental toughness this kid had. He's 10 times tougher than Tommy Morrison ever was."
Brown said someone could spit in Awesome's face, and Awesome wouldn't fight (Note: Don't try this tactic if you see Awesome, as there is a first time for everything. Remember, you've been warned) back.
"He's not that kind of kid," Brown said. "He's a great kid and he knows how to control himself. He doesn't fulfill that tough guy image away from the ring. He's always smiling and likes to have fun, to joke and laugh. Inside the ring, he's the ultimate warrior."
He proved that in the way he's returned to the sport. Bill Mackey hired Thompson to teach him how to box.
Mackey was 44 and, as middle age often has a habit of doing to a man, he'd gotten heavy. He wanted to learn to box in order to shed some weight. He came across Awesome when Awesome was still known as Thompson and trying to start his personal training business.
Mackey was quickly taken by Thompson's charm, and knew he'd found a friend. He introduced him to his wife, Ami, who was also quickly taken by the charismatic, wise-cracking young man they'd met.
"We kind of adopted him," Mackey said, laughing.
The Mackeys were vegans and told Awesome about it. He was intrigued and willing to give it a shot.
High-level athletes are often willing to try anything, but don't frequently stick with things. Thompson lived in Kansas City, which is known for its outrageously good barbecue, and Brown said Awesome "could take out two slabs of ribs in four minutes, easy."
Brown had to convince him to eat chicken and salmon and the like and cut down on his red meat consumption.
But then Awesome met the Mackeys and they were preaching a diet free of animal products.
He was receptive and has been incredibly dedicated. He lost 32 pounds in 28 days and eventually lost too much weight. He got down from the 270 range to under 200 pounds. He eventually had to build himself back up to around 225, where he fights.
"We met him at his low point, unquestionably," Mackey said. "But even though he was at his lowest, we could still see the gem inside. He's such a wonderful guy, and he's gone great [with the vegan lifestyle]. We went to his home and we basically had a vegan cook-a-thon. We took him shopping and showed him how to read the labels. We taught him how to cook and we taught him how to cook in bulk so he could spend a couple of hours cooking on Sunday and he'd have enough food for the rest of the week and he wouldn't have to go through a big process of [cooking every day]. ...
"He's really been incredible. He'll text my wife and say, 'Hey, can I eat this,' or, 'Is it OK to eat that?' He's been a true joy."
His results have been joyous. Since his return, he's won the U.S. Nationals, the Golden Gloves Nationals and the Cheo Aponte International in Puerto Rico.
He's inspired and looking forward to gaining the gold that eluded him in London.
The suspension was a bad thing when it happened, but it's evolved in his mind. In a way, it gave him the rare chance to start over, to remove from his life the impediments that were making him unsuccessful and to leave only the things that were proven to work.
Though he wants to win the gold in Rio, he's not obsessing over it like he was about the gold in London.
"There are really only two things I can control in my life, my hair and my boxing," he said. "For years, London was the only thing on my mind. It consumed me for years. I didn't really know anything but boxing and then it was taken away from me.
"And after a couple of hard days at the beginning [after the suspension], I realized: 'Hey, dude, boxing's going on without you.' Life went on, whether I cared or not. I'm going for the gold [in Rio], but there are more important things in my life now. I know what's important and if it wasn't for that suspension, I don't know if I'd have awakened and realized that."
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