It was a typical, humidity-filled day in Jacksonville, NC, which is the home of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. This day was special because First Lieutenant Stephanie Simon was inducted into the Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame. It is an honor shared with recently retired former world champion Jamel Herring, Leon Spinks, Ken Norton, and many others.
Earlier this year, Simon finished her active-duty obligation and dropped into the Marine Corps Reserves to still serve her country in a limited capacity. While in the reserves, Simon found herself landing a job with a company named Systematic Business Consulting, a commissioned recruiting job she does remotely. The company's flexibility allows Simon to balance having a job and doing her intense training, which keeps her in top shape.
After spending some time in Florida working remotely, an opportunity came up to compete with her fellow Marines who are part of the II MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) MACE (Martial Arts Center of Excellence) Boxing Team. Boxing Hall of Famer Christy Martin put on the competition in Fayetteville, NC as NYF own Jacob Rodriguez was there to capture the results of the event.
It had been seven months since Simon was in a fight, so naturally, some butterflies were flying in her stomach. Simon told NYF, “I would say it was a little nerve-racking. I was battling a little of my inner insecurities; ‘Do I still have it?', ‘Am I still the same boxer I was in December?' Those things were creeping in my head back and forth since it had been seven months since the last time I fought in the ring. That first round reminded me of the jitters and how to overcome them. After the first, it clicked for me, and that's when I started to smile and have fun.”
She beat her competition and won the tournament for her weight class (146 lbs). She succeeded, and the MACE team won the overall best team recognition for the second year in a row. Not bad for a group of Marines that have far less amateur experience than those they compete against. So, what's next for Stephanie Simon? Being ranked #1 in the nation for her weight class has earned her an invitation to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, for a training camp held by USA Boxing.
Simon said, “I will be in Colorado Springs for the first four weeks of this camp. It's Team USA Boxing, and we will be evaluated for spots on the performance team. This spot on the team will determine if I represent the U.S at the end of the camp to compete in international competition in Colorado. Right before the international competition, we have an international camp. So, it's USA Boxing for four weeks, one week of international camp and the last week is international competition. This camp helps with the point system, which also helps to get qualified to participate in the Olympic Trials.”
With the USA Boxing training camp quickly approaching, Simon was inducted into the USMC Boxing Hall of Fame ahead of its ceremony, which takes place on August 6. She was initially supposed to be inducted last year but could not make the ceremony due to other obligations that required her to attend to. Although she was once again going to miss the ceremony this year, it was appropriate that she had it in front of her team, which helped her in different ways to become the fighter she is today.
Simon told NYF “It's an honor and a privilege to be inducted into the Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame. If someone had told me this would happen back when I was in college, I probably would have laughed in their face. I couldn't have done it without the Marines I have worked with and my amazing coach, Joseph Higgins.”
Speaking of Coach Higgins, he was smiling from ear to ear on this day as he watched one of his students earn such high recognition from the Marine Corps. Higgins, who is a Marine Veteran and served as a proud member of the New York Fire Department, knows a thing or two about training fighters on the amateur and Pro levels. (CLICK HERE for his story) But on this day, he was happy to see Simon being recognized as he, more than anyone, knows what it took for her to get here and where she will go in the future.
“I gotta say that I can't think of anyone at this time that is more deserving. When Stephanie came here, she was already pretty tough, but she did have her share of flaws and frustration. Mentally, she used to get frustrated over things that she couldn't correct right away. When a coach has a certain relationship with an athlete, has a little patience with the athlete, gets them through those frustrations, and when they start seeing results, they become extremely motivated. In her defense, there is just a ‘no give up' attitude with her. She lost a fight early on when she first came on the team and was frustrated. After a conversation I had with her, the words she said to me were ‘that's never gonna happen again,' and she hasn't lost a fight since,” said Coach Higgins.
He continued, “I am really thrilled that she has listened to me because she has made unbelievable developments over the last two years. No doubt about it, she has great potential to be a medal winner. I do see her with Claressa Shields type of potential. Kudos to the staff here because we took an interest in developing her because we knew she had the potential. Two years later, look what we have; a two-time national champion, golden girl winner, and #1 in the country who has been an example for everyone on this team.”
As Simon stood in front of the Marines, she stood through blood, sweat, and tears; she got a little emotional and said things you can tell hit home for many standing in front of her. Afterward, Simon shared some time with me to give a few words to those with goals and dreams they would like to achieve one day.
Simon told NYF, “To those who are Marines, veterans or anyone going through day-to-day life, the more adversity you have in your life that makes you uncomfortable or pushes you a little harder, the more comfortable you get being uncomfortable. Taking the hard way and not the easy way out to do things like boxing, wrestling, etc., make you realize that putting yourself in that uncomfortable zone forces you to grow. And that growth will make you an unstoppable person in the future.
She continued, “Be resilient and don't quit. I'm pretty close to reaching my goal since I was eight years old, which is to be an Olympian. It was in a completely different sport than boxing (wrestling). Still, I would daydream about being an Olympian and having the American Flag over my back while standing on the podium hearing the national anthem. That little dream is slowly starting to become a reality.”