Boxer fights to represent parents’ homeland in the 2012 Olympics

After the Haitian earthquake last year, Jeanpierre Augustin welcomed three family members into his family’s Lawrence home – survivors of the earthquake that killed 13 other relatives of the Augustin family. Jean-Pierre knew he had wanted to box for the past five years, but, after the quake, he knew for sure that he wanted to box for Haiti … in the Olympics.

The 25-year-old light heavyweight boxer, originally from Boston, is on the track to an Olympic appearance in London next year, where he will don red and blue.

“For a country that has nothing at all, if I can bring some light to it, that would be a good thing,” Augustin says.
The road to the Olympics, however, is an unsure one, requiring self-discipline and travel to intercontinental tournaments and foreign rings.

Augustin (above) training for the PanAm qualifiers.Augustin (above) training for the PanAm qualifiers.

Last year Augustin, 25, gained some exposure in boxing circles when he competed in the U.S. Championships – considered by some to be the Super Bowl of amateur boxing. Augustin did not come out on top, but his loss pushed him to the next level of competitiveness, his trainers say, flicking a grit switch that has pushed him to train harder with the help of trainer John Curran and Tom Lee, president of the South Boston Boxing Club.

“When he first came here, he wasn’t sure in which direction he wanted to go,” Tom Lee says. “He came back to the gym after that and is a completely different guy.”

Lee is a coach who believes in the age-old efficacy of hard work and discipline. He operates under the motto: “The difference between good boxers and great boxers is what they do when no one is looking.”

Since his loss (by judge’s ruling) at the U.S. Championships last year, Augustin has been beefing up his out-of-gym regimen, Lee says. “He has been doing everything right physically,” he says. “All the things that he is supposed to do when no one is looking.”

Each morning – with no one looking – Augustin takes a two-mile run, followed by his afternoon gym workout at Lee’s gym. Later, he hits the weights at the community center, ending at around 9 p.m.

Before coming to Lee’s gym, Augustin had worked out at the West End Gym in Lowell, known for nurturing professional boxer Mickey Ward, the subject of the 2010 film The Fighter. About a year and a half ago, though, Augustin took his act to “Tommy” Lee at the the South Boston Boxing Club at the Curley Community Center on William J. Day Boulevard.

The club is a bare–bones boxing gym with yellow cement walls, a couple of bags and a sparring ring tucked in the corner across from Lee’s office. A foreigner visiting the SBBC might mistakenly label it as a run-of-the-mill community gym – kids barely 5 feet tall take on punching bags under Lee’s supervision and much of the teaching seems to be devoted toward the “basics.” The club has always had an open-door policy to new members, especially youth.

“As long as you live in the city, we train anybody who comes through the doors.” Lee says.

But even a quick Google search will show that the unassuming gym is a hub for major regional boxers and trainers, including John Curran and John Ruiz, a two-time World Heavyweight Champion.

Curran, who has extensive experience training amateur boxers, is currently serving as the day-to-day boxing coach for Augustin.

On some weeks, Augustin travels down to Providence – a city known as a heavyweight hub of New England. There, Augustin can pick fights with those his own size – a necessity if he’s going to compete in London next year.

“It’s a full-time job,” he says.

His full-time job also includes soliciting sponsorships and traveling to regional qualifying tournaments. The world of Olympic qualifying tournaments are divided at hemispheric levels – presenting a difficulty for non-sponsored amateur fighters.

Augustin (above) working with coach Tom Lee.Augustin (above) working with coach Tom Lee.

Augustine’s Olympic spark began in 2004, after viewing the world games in Athens. He did not qualify for the 2008 Olympics but made a determination that he would qualify for the 2012 Olympics and that he would play for Haiti.

His Haitian background has played a prominent role in his home life, Augustin says, and he would like to give back to the country of his parents, “just to do some good for the country.”

Haitians have struggled to make it past the early rounds in the past two summer Olympic games. In 2004, Andre Berto – who joined Haiti after being disqualified for the U.S. team - lost in the first round to France’s Xavier Noel. In 2008, Azea Augustama competed for Haiti in the light heavyweight division but was defeated by Washington Silva.

Augustin hopes to bring Haiti into the next level of Olympic competitiveness and is currently soliciting sponsorships to help him do so, with his determination as his main selling point.

“It is safe to say that I live for the sport of boxing.”