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ESPN 30 for 30 – 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story

So occasionally Ryan and I will watch the ESPN series 30 for 30.

They are always interesting and while some are uplifting, many of the stories are about athletes that weren’t able to live up to the hype or that were in some way prevented from living up to their full potential – many are stories of “what if?”.

What if the person hadn’t gotten injured? What if the person had gotten another shot? What if….?

For me stories of “what if?” are always a slight bit depressing and leave me rambling on to Ryan for hours after about all of the “what ifs?”.

But last night I watched one of the most motivational documentaries I’ve seen in a long time – one that really spoke to me.

It was the Dewey Bozella Story. Below is his basic biography. I took it from his website as I didn’t want to leave anything out.

In 1983, Bozella’s life took a dramatic turn when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to 20 years to life in Sing Sing prison, Bozella maintained his innocence and exhausted every appeal. He was offered more than four separate chances for an early release if he would only admit guilt and show remorse, but Bozella consistently refused to accept freedom under such conditions. Anger at his imprisonment gave way to determination and instead of becoming embittered, he became a model prisoner: earning his GED, bachelors and masters degrees; working as a counselor for other prisoners; and eventually even falling in love and getting married. Through it all, Bozella found strength and purpose through boxing, becoming the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing Prison.

Unyielding in his innocence, Bozella never gave up fighting in or out of the ring. He wrote to the Innocence Project daily in his quest for a ray of hope. The law firm WilmerHale eventually took on Bozella’s case and uncovered new evidence that exonerated him. After being in prison more than 26 years, he was finally released in October 2009. Today, Bozella devotes his life to helping others, working with a non-profit that helps recently released prisoners rehabilitate back into the world. He has also returned to boxing as a trainer to kids and aspiring fighters, all the while maintaining his dream to fight one professional fight as a free man.

On July 13th, 2011, Dewey Bozella was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at The 2011 ESPYs. The 2011 ESPYs celebrated the courage and conviction that lead Bozella to the ultimate path of freedom after 26 years of imprisonment. Following the awards, Dewey Bozella realized his dream of becoming a professional boxer, winning his first pro fight on October 15th, 2011 on the undercard for Bernard versus Dawson.

Just reading this story again touches me.

I don’t know what it is…Maybe it is his un-wavering determination or his refusal to give up hope. Maybe its the fact that he worked to always make the best of his situation. Maybe it is the fact that he never comprised his integrity and refused to lie even for his freedom. Maybe it was his courage and conviction. Maybe it was the fact that he found empowerment and strength through sports.

Maybe it was the fact that he never gave up and got, at least a little, to realize “what if?”.

No, he will never know if he could have been one of the best professional boxers had he not been imprisoned during his prime, but at least he knew he could have been great…and there is some peace in that.

At least he never gave up on his dream and did everything he could to get it.

“Never let fear determine who you are,” said Bozella. “Never let where you come from determine where you’re going.”

Some of us never get started because we hate failing, we fear failing, maybe even more than we love winning.

Bozella failed time and time again and never gave up because he knew that winning was worth it.

While we may not be fighting for our freedom or our chance to compete in a professional sport, we are all fighting for some victory no matter how small.

The question is…will we let our fear of failure get in the way or will we realize that always asking “what if?” is far worse?

NOTE: I would like to take a second and also recognize some of the really inspiration things going on in athletics right now. We have some really brave athletes on our hands. Whether or not they will be recognized for their bravery or burned for it has yet to truly be seen, but I will continue to hope for the best!

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