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Jamel Herring, Marine-turned champion boxer, happy to use platform to speak out on PTSD

5 min read
Jamel Herring (Getty Images)

Jamel Herring had dictated the action and pace through 10 rounds Saturday night when it happened. Lamont Roach Jr. sat on a picture-perfect right hook that banged Herring across the temple. Herring’s legs turned to jelly as his feet shuffled, making him look like James Brown gliding across the dance floor.

Much to Herring’s dismay, the worse of it wasn’t over yet. Roach measured him up and threw another pulverizing right hook — this one nearly sending the WBO junior lightweight champion through the ropes.

In danger of being finished, Herring started talking to himself.

“For that split second, I was telling myself ‘I gotta toughen it out, I gotta toughen it out. I been through worse. I been through worse,’” Herring said. “I could have easily packed it in and gave it up. Even the 12th round, he charged at me, I could have easily folded and packed it in, but I would never do that to myself and let those who look up to me down.”

Herring ultimately held on and found a way to absorb Roach’s late surge to claim a unanimous decision victory (117-111, 117-111, 115-113) in front of 7,412 fans — many of them Marines and other military personnel that came out in full force to salute the vet — at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, Calif.

While Herring found himself in an onslaught from Roach, it pales in comparison to everything the 34-year-old has endured in life. In case you’re unfamiliar, Herring provides a vivid snapshot of his life’s story with this pinned tweet sitting atop his Twitter feed.

In short, in-ring adversity can't be compared to life's adversity. Herring knows that all too well.

“That was a big scare,” Herring said of Roach’s late rally. “But it doesn’t measure to anything that I’ve been through personally in my life, especially my deployment to my personal tragedies.”

Herring’s year in boxing has been a real-life movie.

Earlier in the year, Herring scored a unanimous decision over Masayuki Ito to become the WBO world junior lightweight champion at 33 years old. He emotionally accomplished the feat on May 25, which was the birthday of his late daughter Ariyanah, who died in 2009 as a result of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). She would have turned 10 on that day.

Roughly six months later, Herring recorded his first title defense during Veterans Day weekend: fitting for the former U.S. Marine who did two tours of duty as a gunner in Iraq in 2005 and 2007.

“When you look at everything I had to go through and winning the title on my daughter’s birthday Memorial Day Weekend,” Herring says, “and then defending it Veterans Day weekend all in the same year, that’s a huge honor.”

Herring, speaking to DAZN just before Veterans Day, knows that he has come a long way. Now, he uses his platform and voice as a source of strength for others. His two tours of duty in Iraq — seven to eight months each in the desert — left the father of five with PTSD. His infant daughter’s death two years later only further scrambled the Coram, N.Y., native’s mindset.

At the time, Herring didn’t even know that he was suffering from the disorder.

“But when my family started to see the issues and the changes in my personality,” Herring said, “that’s when I figured that I needed to get some help.”

That help served as a springboard to where Herring is now — still dealing with PTSD and the triggers that flare it, but equipped with ways to handle it and willing to share his story with the masses.

“I still deal with it, but I deal with it a lot better than I did a year ago,” he said. “I got the proper counseling and help to actually speak out on it more. That actually helps out a lot, instead keeping everything built up inside."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that roughly 11-20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) have PTSD in a given year, making Herring's platform and voice as a world champion all the more important.

“If I could help save a life and help others do better in their lives, that right there makes me feel good inside,” he said. “That’s a blessing and that’s one way that I deal with PTSD — just sharing my story, helping others and getting that great feedback.”

Boxing, too, has helped. While some might think the brutality of the sport wouldn’t be a good fix for a former U.S. Marine, Herring thinks differently. Boxing has been this veteran’s solace.

“Every time I get to the gym, I just leave my problems at the door,” he said. “I could just focus on something that I really love, and I just love the craft of boxing. Boxing has definitely been my outlet if I’m dealing with my issues that I dealt with in the past.”

Like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez always aims to fight during Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day weekends to maximize his following, Herring would love to continue fighting on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day weekends to continue to be a source of strength for active military personnel and fellow veterans to let them know that they’re not alone battling PTSD.

“The best piece of advice I’d give them is to continue to fight, keep their head up and don’t be afraid to share your fears and issues with your fellow man because they also may be going through something similar,” Herring said. “It takes a strong person to speak their mind and share their weak side because a lot of times people keep things to themselves and it’s too late. Tragedy finds them and we may lose a good man or woman because they didn’t get the proper help or stand out enough.

“If I could keep families together with less tragedy, I will definitely continue to fight,” Herring said, “and get my message across the board as much as I possibly can.”

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