How social media connected Cam F. Awesome with a young sickle cell patient

·Combat columnist
Cam F. Awesome
Cam F. Awesome recently gave his championship belt to Mikayla Perkins as she battles sickle cell. (Children’s Mercy Kansas City)

Most boxers treasure their championship belts and medals, and rightly so. Few can understand the level of dedication and commitment that goes into winning a title at the highest levels of either amateur or pro boxing.

It does, in many ways, consume one’s life, and the belts are a visible everyday reminder of the success of that endeavor.

Cam F. Awesome, one of the successful amateur boxers in this country over the last decade or so, has had more than his share of high-profile wins.

He’s the 2016 USA Boxing Elite national heavyweight champion, which he won on Dec. 10 in Kansas City. It’s his fifth elite national title. He was the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Trials champion. He’s a four-time Golden Gloves national champion.

He was presented a blue championship belt after winning the elite national title yet again, but he didn’t keep it very long.

Less than two weeks after winning the belt, he gave it away to a 15-year-old girl he’d never met before.

Awesome wound up at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City on Tuesday through the power of social media. There he gave his belt to Mikayla Perkins, a sickle cell patient who was at the hospital with her father, Cameron, for a monthly blood transfusion that is necessary to keep her alive.

Awesome, who was born Lenroy Thompson, wound up visiting Perkins in a very roundabout way. Jake Jacobson, the director of public relations for the hospital, tweeted a note of congratulations to Awesome on his national championship victory.

While Awesome doesn’t have a large national profile, he is fairly well known in the Kansas City area, where he is from.

Awesome is talented enough to have turned professional at any point in the last five years, and probably would be making a significant living had he chosen to do so.

But he’s never been so interested in fighting as a pro. He had other things he wanted to do with his life that didn’t involve fighting for a paycheck. He continues to enjoy amateur boxing, and despite missing out on his dream of representing the U.S. in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the summer, opted to continue his amateur career.

Awesome, 28, quickly replied to Jacobson’s note of congratulations, though he wasn’t basking in the glory of his win. Rather, he told Jacobson he’d like to visit a child in the hospital and give his newly won belt away.

“It was a cool idea and we loved it,” said Jacobson, who conferred with others at the hospital to find the child who would best enjoy the visit.

Everyone quickly agreed that Mikayla Perkins was that child.

Cameron Perkins, Mikayla’s father, hadn’t heard of Awesome before their impromptu meeting Tuesday, but immediately began searching the internet for information about him when the hospital asked if it would be OK if Awesome showed up to visit Mikayla.

And Cameron Perkins couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is really something awesome,’ ” he said.

Life hasn’t been kind to Mikayla Perkins in her first 15 years. Her sickle-cell has led to numerous hospital stays and visits and caused an inordinate amount of health problems.

She’s already had two strokes, the first coming while she was in pre-kindergarten and the second while she was in first grade. She’s had a bout of pneumonia and is afflicted with Moyamoya disease. Moyamoya is a disease in which arteries to the brain are constricted, blocking blood flow.

“If you met her, you may not think there is anything physically wrong with her,” Cameron Perkins, an auditor for a health care company, said of his daughter. “But her mental understanding, it can take a bit before she catches on.”

She had no trouble understanding what was going on when Awesome walked into the room where she was kept after her transfusion. She is a professional wrestling fan and quickly saw his championship belt.

She beamed, and the two connected instantly as if they were long-time friends. Awesome, who has worked as a personal fitness trainer, asked her about wrestling and gave her advice for doing pull-ups.

“I didn’t know him and I had no idea what to expect, but the way he treated Mikayla was incredible,” Perkins said. “He spoke to her at her level. He didn’t stand there and talk down to her or anything. He got in there, took his jacket off and they started chit-chatting back and forth. She really opened up and I was just cracking up.

“They were almost like twins, they were so much alike. They were smiling and laughing and he was so personable and so good with her and I was like, ‘Wow.’ He just came in and connected with her, and you could see it was a very real connection.”

This is Awesome’s life, not chasing a professional boxing world title and getting millions of followers on Twitter or likes on Facebook.

He remains a stand-up comedian, and his new life’s work is giving motivational speeches. On his website, he has a list of his inspirational quotes in the middle of the page.

Cam F. Awesome
Cam F. Awesome won the 2016 USA Boxing Elite national heavyweight champion, on Dec. 10 in Kansas City. (AP Images)

One – “Work hard when no one is looking. When they look, make it look easy.” – is kind of the cornerstone of the speeches he gives to companies.

He speaks about goal setting in the work place, becoming the best version of yourself and career commitment.

He’s done plenty of those as a fighter, with great success and some notable failures. He lost a shot to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team when he was given a one-year suspension by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after three whereabouts failures. Whenever an athlete in the program misses three tests because they aren’t where they said they would be, it is considered a violation.

So he came back to make a run at the 2016 team in Rio. But he also wanted to use boxing as a platform for his speaking career.

“Boxing gave me that validity, where I could go in and speak to them as someone who had accomplished something,” he said.

He went to great pains to explain that he’s not an athlete speaker. Because of their notoriety, a lot of athletes can make extra cash in their off-season by speaking on the banquet circuit. That’s not what Awesome wanted to do.

His success in boxing opened the door for him a bit, but he had to open it fully with the message he delivered.

“There are speakers and there are athlete-speakers,” he said. “I didn’t want to be an athlete-speaker. Here’s how I would describe the difference between a speaker and an athlete-speaker: I would listen to LeBron James read his grocery list, and that’s why people would hire LeBron James, because you don’t really care what he’s talking about. C’mon, it’s LeBron.

“I do not have that type of stardom and I’m not going to get people to come hear me talk about whatever. I have to deliver them a message that resonates in a manner that helps them in their business.”

Because he’s done stand-up comedy for the last five years, he’s comfortable standing up in front of large groups and speaking. Nothing can be more frightening for a person than to attempt a comedy routine and no one laughs.

In an era when so many fighters don’t think of their futures and a life without boxing, Awesome stands alone as a unique figure.

He could be in the midst of a lucrative pro career, but instead, he’s planning for life after boxing as well as using his notoriety to help others.

“We have people who show up for the cameras and they’re doing it for a P.R. opportunity,” Jacobson said. “But there was none of that with Cam. He just wanted to do something good for someone. When I was walking him around, you could see him looking and he asked me a lot of good questions about what was going on and what we did. And never did he talk about getting press coverage or positive publicity out of it or anything.

“He came here because he wanted to do something good for somebody else. Really, it was that simple. Mikayla was so happy, and the people who are around her a lot said it was easily the most she’s talked in a long time.”

Cameron Perkins said he feels he’s made a new friend.

“One of the things I’ve tried to teach my daughter is to do things for others without expecting something in return, because there is a blessing in that,” he said. “And this guy came in and did something for my daughter that she’s going to remember for the rest of her life. I don’t think he really understands how much he impacted her. He didn’t ask for anything for it. He didn’t expect anything in return. He did a good thing just for the sake of doing a good thing.

“That’s the kind of person Cam is. He cared enough about somebody he didn’t know to take his time and go out of his way to do something nice for them. Of course we will [continue to be friends]. Who wouldn’t want a friend who has an attitude like that?”