Bruce Carrington reacts after defeating David Navarro during the 2020 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team Trials at Golden Nugget Lake Charles Hotel & Casino on December 15, 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
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The last place Bruce Carrington expected to be in the middle of May was hanging out at his Long Island, New York, home doing a live hot sauce challenge on social media with his sister.
This past summer was supposed to be the realization of a dream the boxer first spoke as a little kid, to go to the Olympic Games and become a champion. Instead, just days before the U.S. boxing team was scheduled to go to the qualifying tournament in Buenos Aires at the end of March, the event was canceled and they were all sent home.
Six weeks later, fans of Carrington — also known as “Shu Shu,” a family nickname — watched him dump the hottest sauce of his collection all over a wing and deal with the, ahem, uncomfortable aftermath.
“That last one killed me,” he said. “It took, like, 20 minutes for the heat to subside. It tasted like pain. They made it taste like pain.”
Inflicting pain is usually Carrington’s job.
An alternate for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the age of 19, Carrington has long been one of the country’s top amateur fighters and was named to the 2020 U.S. Olympic qualification team at 57 kg. back in January.
He grew up in Brownsville, a notoriously rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, and after he started fighting back against some bullies, Carrington’s dad got him to the local boxing gym. Boxing in Brownsville isn’t like boxing in some other neighborhoods, either. It can feel almost feel like a birthright, with the area having produced some of the nation’s and world’s best over the past decades, including Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Danny Jacobs.
“People I saw on TV were at the gym I went to and was a little starstruck,” he said. “It made me want to come to the gym even more. I started learning quick and it grew on me. In a matter of weeks I knew that’s what I was going to do the rest of my life.”
In a 2019 documentary available on Vimeo entitled “Brownsville Born,” there’s video of a young Carrington showing off his combinations and another of him with a fake Tyson tattoo on the side of his head from when his dad took him to a fight in Manhattan.
“He’s my favorite boxer; he knocks out a lot of people so I give him the props,” he says in the video, before announcing that he’s one day going to go the Olympics.
Carrington’s Olympic dream took hold watching videos created by fellow Brooklynite Sadam Ali documenting his journey to making the Olympic team in 2008. Carrington used to watch Ali fight in Golden Gloves matchups and the youngster, who was 11 at the time of the Beijing Games, set his sights on a new goal.
“I was like, ‘I want to be there, I want to get there,’” Carrington said. “He’s someone I looked up to at the time so yeah, when I saw that I knew I wanted to be an Olympian.”
Carrington used to fight at 132 pounds, but the weight classes were restructured following the 2016 Olympics. That left him with a decision to move up to 138 pounds or down to 125.
Armed with a new plant-based diet he adopted in 2017, Carrington decided to move down to fight at 125 pounds.
So yes, the wings he ate during the hot sauce challenge were vegan.
Eating only plant-derived food isn’t exactly common in the boxing world, Carrington said, but after he and his father watched a documentary on Netflix three years ago called “What the Health” they were inspired to rethink their diets.
It was hard at first, Carrington said, but there are so many more options now both at restaurants and in stores that it’s become a bit easier. He also had to go through quite a bit of trial and error to find what worked for him nutritionally.
“One thing I will say now is I haven’t been sluggish since I started this diet,” he said. “It makes me feel much stronger. I noticed (trying to drop to the 125 class) that I was much better able to keep up with the pace in fighting and my energy levels are always up.”
When the 2020 Olympics were postponed, a number of boxers wrestled with the option of forgoing 2021 to turn pro.
Carrington was not among them, reiterating the goal he said out loud as a pre-teen back in Brownsville.
“No matter what, I’m going to stick it out and go to the Olympics,” Carrington said. “Friends may have their plans, but I have mine. I’m going to have my name written in the history books. That’s my goal. I want to showcase my talent at the Olympics with the world watching. As a pro a lot of people can see you but the population isn’t as big as the people who watch the Olympics and I want to be a household name. That’s my plan.”