MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Boxer Steven Nelson dropped down on one knee in the ring Saturday for the best possible reason: He proposed to fellow fighter Raquel Miller, who was so surprised you could have knocked her over with a feather.
The middleweight thought her boyfriend, the No. 1-ranked light heavyweight in the country, was simply presenting the bronze medals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing. Instead, he popped the one question that could make her feel better about missing her shot at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“It took the sting away from losing,” said Miller, 30. “I definitely wanted to go to Rio, but I’ve got a gold medal in my future husband, so I’m happy. My heart is full.
“That was an awesome ending to my tournament.”
Now Nelson, 27, whose nickname is “So Cold” will try to make Team USA in the men’s Olympic Trials in Reno, Nevada, in December.
He’s sure he won’t be as nervous when he’s in the ring against his opponents as he was Saturday.
“Years ago, I would probably would have passed out,” Nelson said.
But he realized that this was the same crowd that watches him box, composed of friends and fans who want the best for him.
Besides, Nelson said, “I didn’t see anybody else there; I didn’t see the crowd.”
He only had eyes for his future bride.
Nelson started planning the proposal about three months ago after floating the idea past Julie Goldsticker, who handles public relations for USA Boxing.
“She said, ‘Cool, let me know what you need and I hope we can help you guys out,’” he said. “But Raquel didn’t know about it until last night. She was so surprised and happy and smiling and laughing.”
After Nelson gave Miller the bronze medal, he said he had something else for her. “I was confused,” she said.
|Raquel Miller's engagement ring|
Nelson then took her hand, dropped to one knee and spoke into the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we started at back in 2012,” he said. “We both were Olympic training partners, and ever since then we’ve been training hard and fighting together.
“Raquel Miller, will you marry me?’”
She hid her face in her hands.
“I got really lightheaded and I couldn’t stop laughing,” Miller said. “I was so overwhelmed with joy. I just felt really happy and really embarrassed because I’m shy.
“I felt honored that he wanted to propose to me in such a public way.”
After Nelson slipped an ornate diamond ring onto her finger, they hugged and kissed in a clinch unlike any other seen in the ring.
“It’s so special that our story has come full circle, starting in London together, and becoming friends,” Miller said. “Coach Basheer Abdullah invited us to go London as training partners for the 2012 Games, and he is now our head coach, and this whole journey we have been together.”
Miller and Nelson bonded over sightseeing and sushi. “I was really excited about going to London,” Miller said. “I had researched Big Ben and the London Eye, all these places I wanted to go see.”
But she was having trouble finding someone to go with her. “I approached Steven and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go hang out in London? He said, ‘Sure.’”
They explored London together.
“It just felt like he was my best friend,” Miller said. “It seemed so natural.”
They kept in contact after the Games. “I said, ‘Hey, we’re a good match,’” Nelson said.
But Miller wasn’t sure she wanted to pursue a relationship.
“The funny thing is I was really against dating a boxer,” she said, “because I felt like this is my sport. I take it really seriously. I didn’t know how I felt about dating somebody in my sport in case it didn’t work out. After he got me to let down my guard a little bit, I realized he was a really great guy.”
But Nelson, an Omaha, Nebraska, native, was in Colorado and Miller was in San Francisco. She told him that long-distance relationships don’t work. He said, “Let’s just try.”
After many trips back and forth, Miller moved to Colorado in February 2014 and was able to train with Nelson and the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
After he left the Army program, they moved together to San Diego to train with Abdullah.
“It all fell into place,” Miller said. “We’ve been chasing this Olympic dream together and we’ve been pushing and pulling each other. It’s been really helpful to have somebody who’s been able to understand the journey from every aspect.
“It’s made us a lot closer because we both know what it’s like to cut weight, to have to eat smaller meals or do three-a-day workouts. It just feels like you have your best friend who understands your world.”
Miller, the 2012 world silver medalist, fights at 165 pounds, and Nelson, who boxes at 178, only “fake spar.”
“I don’t go all out,” Nelson said. “I don’t want to hurt her or anything. We train side by side every day, we’re best friends. That’s what makes our relationship that much better because we’re friends first and training partners. She understands the grind and the struggle of being a boxer. It makes it easy when I’m in camp.”
Now that they’re engaged, Miller said she won’t change anything. “We’re always keeping each other sharp,” she said. “Even if he doesn’t want to hear my critiques, I’m going to tell him. We love the sport of boxing, so we keep each other on our toes. I think that’s what makes us grow and be stronger.”
They’re in no rush to set a wedding date.
“My first goal is the Olympics,” Nelson said. “Soon after Olympics we’re going to tie the knot.”
Although Miller is disappointed that she won’t compete in Rio, she’s grateful for what her sport has given her.
“I felt like I’ve gotten the best gift out of boxing,” Miller said. “Boxing has given me a future husband.”