Boxing gold medalist meets with patients at Augusta VA
By AMANDA KING | The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. | Published: September 2, 2017
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Army veteran Barbara Kernells had no idea that she would be meeting former heavyweight boxing champion Ray Mercer when she came into the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center for an appointment on Friday afternoon.
Mercer, who resided in Augusta prior to his boxing career, was making a different kind of round with his father, also named Ray. Patients and visitors took photo opportunities and spoke with former champ at both VA locations.
Mercer, 56, and his father share something in common with the patients at the VA – they are both Army veterans. Mercer served 10 years before bowing out to pursue professional boxing, while his father served 21 years.
Joining the Army wasn’t initially what the younger Mercer had in mind following high school graduation in 1979. After being unable to find a job and continuing to live at home, his father had a solution.
“I went down to the recruiter and signed him and a buddy of his up,” the elder Mercer said. “Two weeks later, they were in the Army.”
Mercer and his friend went their separate ways after being stationed apart, but he went on to learn a lot more than he expected.
“They taught me how to box, taught me how to be a man, taught me everything,” Mercer said.
Not long after learning to box in the military, Mercer earned the title of amateur boxing heavyweight champion in 1988. That same year he earned a gold medal in the Olympics. He held the WBO heavyweight title in 1991 and 1992.
After nearly 20 years in boxing with 36 wins and seven losses and a brief stint in kickboxing and MMA, Mercer now takes the opportunity to visit his fellow soldiers at the VA, thanking them for their service.
“Without the vets, a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. The vets are why we’re free,” he said. “I always feel safe knowing that they are around.”
Mercer also said he knows the pain that many of the veterans are experiencing from his boxing days.
“Boxing is a hurt game. A lot of boxers get depression and concussions so boxing is a little bit like war,” Mercer said. “That connects us, too.”