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Chasing an Olympic Dream

By John Crawford

Tom Duquette ’12

Tom Duquette ’12    Photo: Justin Knight

Ask Tom Duquette ’12 why he boxes, and he offers a simple answer: “I’m good at it.”

Boxing, though, can make for a grueling life. For one thing, it’s a sport built on intimidation. When Duquette walks into a new gym to train, he can feel the other boxers’ eyes on him. “The culture around boxing is intense,” says the Waltham, Mass., resident. “It takes a while to earn your respect in the gym.”

There are all-too-common injuries. Duquette has pain in his knee, carpal tunnel syndrome in his wrist, and a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone I compete against has similar issues,” he says.

Boxing also requires deprivation. When he’s training, Duquette always is thinking about his weight. Duquette fights at the 141-pound weight class, and like any boxer before he’s officially weighed in, Duquette often has to shed a few final pounds. That means a last-minute run or trip to the sauna or even chewing gum while spitting into a cup. “Cutting weight is the worst part of the sport,” he says. “I hate not being able to eat.”

Despite all the hassles and pain, and despite studying at a demanding business school that requires much of his time, Duquette continues to box. He does so because he’s chasing one dream: a place on the U.S. team for the 2012 London Olympics. Duquette fought his first fight at 14 and has competed in some 125 bouts, and for any amateur boxer like himself, the Olympics represent the ultimate goal. “When you’re working in the gym, you’re thinking of that,” he says.

His dream seemingly ended this past summer. Duquette was the number two ranked U.S. boxer in his weight class, but at the Olympic qualifiers in Mobile, Ala., he lost two heartbreaking matches, one by a single point and the other by a tiebreaker. At stake had been a spot on the Olympic team, but with those two narrow defeats, he returned to Babson for the fall semester thinking his boxing career was probably over.

Then a slim window of opportunity opened when the eventual Olympic qualifier had a poor showing at the subsequent world championships. The spot on the Olympic team was again empty, and a March tournament, open to all comers, will fill the vacancy. With one last chance at Olympic glory presenting itself, Duquette deferred his spring semester to train for the tournament, which will be a gauntlet. To win the Olympic spot, a boxer may have to fight matches on as many as six consecutive days. “It’s going to be a zoo,” he says.

Whatever happens, Duquette isn’t planning on turning pro. He reserves the right to change his mind, on the off-chance he receives an excellent offer, but he’s generally not interested in a hard life of pounding in the ring. Instead, he wants to earn his college degree, something few boxers do.

Duquette transferred to Babson in 2010. He first heard about the College during a summer job in high school. He worked at a window-cleaning company, and the owner, a sharp man who didn’t attain much formal education, always talked about how great Babson was. “He would have loved to have gone here,” Duquette says.

After graduation, Duquette is thinking of consulting, launching a startup, or finding work in boxing, perhaps with a broadcaster or promoter. He’ll carry with him lessons learned in the classroom as well as the ring. He credits boxing for giving him discipline and a competitive spirit. Both will serve him well.

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