From the Army to the Ring: Naomi Graham's Inspiring Story
by Luke Santangelo, USA Boxing
In the world of boxing, history is often forged by those who dare to defy the odds and break new ground. Naomi Graham, a star in the realm of boxing, stands on the precipice of such an achievement. Notably, Graham became the first active female military member to proudly represent USA Boxing in an Olympic Games in 2020. As she prepares to represent the United States at the upcoming 2023 Santiago Pan American Games this October, her sights are set on another milestone that has never been reached in the history of USA Boxing, becoming the first ever boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back gold medals at a Pan American Games.
Growing up, Naomi's inspiration came from her older sister, who was a boxer herself. At just the age of nine, Naomi felt an undeniable pull towards the sport. However, her mother didn’t allow her to box or compete until she was much older. It wasn't until Graham reached the age of 24 that she finally stepped into the ring for her first bout. But for Naomi, her family's influence extended beyond her sister. She looked up to her mother as a source of strength and composure, both inside and outside the boxing ring. It was from her mother that Naomi inherited the discipline and resilience that would come to define her athletic career.
Naomi decided to follow in her mother's footsteps by joining the Army in February 2013. Her mother served for six years in the military and had left a lasting impression on her. Joining the Army was a dream Graham had harbored since her childhood, a dream she often shared with her mother. Stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, her military service became the foundation upon which her boxing career would be built.
Once in the Army, Naomi Graham found her way to a boxing gym, where her potential was quickly recognized. She crossed paths with a sergeant from the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), who guided her through the application process to join the Army boxing team. This marked the official beginning of her boxing career, a journey that would take her to unexpected heights.
Fast forward to the present, Naomi Graham finds herself on the cusp of etching her name into USA Boxing history again. Her ambitious quest to secure consecutive Pan American gold medals, a quest that has never been accomplished before by an American boxer, stands as a testament to her unwavering determination. As she prepares to compete in the 75kg weight division this month in Santiago, she seeks to replicate her outstanding performance from 2019, a triumph that would earn her a ticket to her second Olympic Games.
"Anytime I get to represent my country, it's a great feeling,” Graham stated. “If I'm able to bring gold back to my country. It will feel great."
Naomi Graham responds with humility and patriotism that define her character. Graham is currently preparing for the upcoming Pan American Games as she acknowledges the significance of her preparation.
"So, this is actually the best camp I've felt in a long time, to be honest with you,” Graham said.
As she prepares for her second Olympic appearance, Naomi Graham reflects on her journey with a sense of determination and purpose. She acknowledges the challenges ahead, recognizing that making it to the Olympics is an achievement, let alone making it a second time. Yet, she is more motivated than ever, armed with the knowledge and experience of her first Olympic journey. She knows what to expect, and this time, she's aiming not just for participation but for redemption and a place in history.
"It's really hard for people to make it one time,” Graham stated on possibility of making Olympics again. “So, it's even smaller chances of making it the second time, and for me, this is a second chance to redeem myself because now I know what to expect versus the first time."
As Graham prepares herself for Santiago and sets her sights on the history books of USA Boxing, we are reminded that greatness often emerges from those who dare to challenge the status quo. Naomi's quest for consecutive gold medals symbolizes her unwavering commitment to her sport and her country, underlining the values of humility and patriotism that define her character. Her relentless pursuit of excellence, even in the face of daunting odds, serves as an inspiration to all who dream big. With her second Olympic appearance on the horizon, Naomi Graham is poised not just for participation but for a legacy that will forever be etched into the annals of boxing history.