Sugar Ray Leonard was a young fighter from Prince George’s County, Md., who jabbed his way to the pinnacle of the boxing world. By the time he was 20, he had won an Olympic gold medal, three National Golden Gloves titles, two Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships and the 1975 Pan-American Games crown.
Then he turned pro, winning world titles in five weight categories. Now, running the Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation, which raises funds for juvenile diabetes research, Leonard talks about his life and how aging affects athletes.
Do you stay in your boxing shape?
I am getting older. As a boxer, as an athlete, I was in super-superb shape. We neglect our bodies for the fortune. There has to be a balance between monetary and physical things, that’s your body. Your body is a great asset.
I talk about that all the time, to young, up-and-coming athletes. I felt that way when I turned 40, because I was not as focused. I didn’t have the same commitment that I had when I was in my 20s or maybe 30s. I was preoccupied with other things instead of what I call tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is total focus. It’s like looking through the tunnel, you see straight ahead, and you’re not distracted or deterred.
Why did you lose the tunnel vision?
I allowed myself distractions, whether that was because of my marriage, about being with my kids, a bad deal, all those things are factors.
You mean substance abuse drugs and alcohol?
All of the above.
What are you doing now?
I give motivational speeches around the world and use fighting as a metaphor. We are all fighters, even outside of the ring, because we need great corners, or a great stab. Everything that allowed me to be a world champion inside that ring gives you that same success outside the ring.
What do you enjoy doing now that you are retired from boxing?
I love golf and tennis. I play sporadic golf now because of my travels. When I do play, it is wonderful.
Your memoir was published last spring. Could you please talk a little about it?
Writing the book helped me make amends with people I harmed and to apologize. It was cathartic and therapeutic for me. I was not ready to be as transparent, but the more I talked about it, the better I felt.
What have you learned about aging well?
The wisdom I give to people is: Don’t expect things to be handed to you.
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