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With Upgraded Pan Am Games Gold Medal, Boxer Naomi Graham Refocuses On More Winning In 2021

By Scott McDonald | Nov. 23, 2020, 10:23 a.m. (ET)

Naomi Graham squares off against her opponent in the Women's Middle (69-75kg) Finals at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 in Lima, Peru.

 

Naomi Graham felt dejected when she didn’t win the gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, having fell in the championship match in boxing’s middleweight class. Graham thought she fought well enough to win.

Months later, a friend of Graham’s contacted her with updated results from those Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

“I looked at the results and saw they had changed on the Pan Am website,” Graham said. “I called my coaches and they didn’t even know about it. I didn’t know what happened and I was confused.”

The “new” results showed that Graham was the gold medalist, and she didn’t believe what she saw. She wanted to find out what happened.

“Toward end of (2019) they told me situation, and it was not a good reason,” Graham recalled last month to TeamUSA.org. “I felt like it was something I earned. I felt like it was a fight I won.”

Jessica Caicedo of Colombia was awarded the gold medal in the championship match in Lima. However, Caicedo was later stripped of her gold medal for doping violations. Graham was then informed to return her silver medal so she could receive the gold that she felt was hers anyway.

“It was a really good feeling when I found out the news,” Graham said. “I’m happy to know I got to get the gold-medal spot. I was even more thrilled when I received the gold medal.”

Losing that championship match left a sour taste in her mouth, though. With the U.S. Olympic Team Trials looming in late 2019, Graham was laser focused. She won the trials, and that set her up for the next round of competition to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

That got put on hold as the world changed in early 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports leagues around the country, and the world, began postponing their seasons and events — or canceling them altogether.

The Tokyo Games were eventually postponed one year, and they’re now scheduled to start in July 2021. The training continues for Graham, though, and the feeling of dejection still lives within her.

“I want leave no doubt from now on when I leave the ring,” Graham said. “I took it to myself personally that it was my loss. I can’t point fingers anywhere else, and I can only get better.”

She has lost only two fights since that day in Lima, but she’s won a lot. She won the Strandja Tournament in Bulgaria this year, and she won the Boxam International Tournament in Spain in early October. At the end of October, she won the silver medal at the Alexis Vastine Tournament in France — that was her second loss since the Pan Am Games.

Graham lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and trains in the Army World Class Athlete Program. With Olympic qualifying put on hold, Graham still needed to stay in shape. The coronavirus led to gyms getting shut down, however, so she had to get creative. She did a lot of hiking, biking and running in the Colorado Springs hills, and she did her fair share of shadow boxing.

Meanwhile, Graham has kept up her duties as a staff sergeant (E-6) assigned to 89 Bravo as an ammunition specialist. She’s also kept up her healthy eating habits, whether at home or abroad. She’s been known for shunning things like pizza and beer when out with friends.

So how does she maintain healthy eating while going to countries like France, Spain, Bulgaria and Peru, where pastries and bakeries can be found on almost every city block?

She meal preps in advance and packs it away in cold bags.

“I always bring the things that I eat,” Graham said. “I buy fruit in other countries, but I also bring a lot of different flavored tuna with me.”

She also has her regimen to get ready for fights. She doesn’t listen to music to get hyped. She sits by herself and meditates. Graham said she doesn’t even need complete silence to meditate and clear her thoughts to shake any nerves that might be there.

“Sometimes I have nerves when I warm up, but when I step into the ring they’re gone,” she said. 

Graham will return to the United States with a gold medal and one silver from her latest European trip. She’ll return to Colorado for more training, with a vision of gold in Tokyo.

“Anything but an Olympic gold would be a letdown because we’ve been working so hard,” said Graham, who added that losing is not anything she ever thinks about. “I just vision myself as holding the gold.”

Scott McDonald

Scott McDonald is a writer from Florida who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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