Boxer makes unlikely comeback in the ring
After Ozen graduate Cymone Kearney left the ring last month a national champion, he said a stranger approached him.
″‘I knew your dad in the Army,’” Kearney, 30, recalled the man saying. ”‘He was a great boxer, too.’”
Later, Kearney’s mother, Veronica Broussard, showed him the photographs of his father standing beside a row of barracks beds, his hands laced with boxing wraps.
“That let me know this is where I’m supposed to be,”
said Kearney, who on Dec. 15 became Team USA’s top 178-pound boxer. It took him 18 years of spiritual, athletic and drug-related struggles to achieve the feat. “Now all the pieces are coming together.”
Cymone was almost 4 when his father died.
Lafayette Bryant Kearney delivered mail for the U.S. Postal Service in Houston and sang lead in a jazz band on weekends.
Cymone and his younger sister Jasmine used to shuffle to the front door when they heard him singing from the driveway, just home from work.
On June 2, 1990, Lafayette dropped his children off at their grandmother’s home in Beaumont and took Veronica on a dinner cruise around Clear Lake.
He had an asthma attack on the water. By the time the boat turned around and docked, he couldn’t breathe. He died at a nearby hospital.
“They didn’t understand - ‘where’s my dad,’” said Veronica, 50. “Jasmine started to cling to Cymone. I knew it was taking a toll on her, but she didn’t know how to express it. He was trying to be a big boy. But the older he got, I started to notice the absence of a father in him.”
Veronica moved with her children to Beaumont, near her mother on Goliad Street. She had three more sons and began to work shut-down shifts at local chemical plants.
Cymone wandered the neighborhood.
“I couldn’t teach him how to be a man,” Veronica said. “I kept him in the church. I kept him in the Word. But he had that insecurity in him. He started to seek credibility through street manhood. I felt like I was losing him.”
When Cymone was 10, a teenage neighbor stole a van from a nearby brake shop and picked up Cymone. The brakes gave out at the end of the street, and the van wrecked into the ditch. Cymone ran home and hid under his bed. The police eventually called his mother.
“I decided before he got into any more trouble, I was going to find something to occupy his time,” Veronica said.
The Beaumont Police Department ran a youth outreach boxing league at a gym near the train tracks on College Street. Veronica signed Cymone up, hoping the police could be positive male influences.
“I remember when I first walked into the gym, I was in awe,” Cymone said. “Just hearing the bag, the bell, I was fascinated with everything.”
Cymone knocked out his first opponent in 12 seconds.
“They called me ‘Little Ali,’” Cymone said.
He began to travel to weekend tournaments, and by 2000 he was a junior national champion at 12 years old.
“I would watch him actually spar with adults at 13, 14 years old,” said Shedrick “Shakey” Lewis, 38, who also fought in the BPD league and now trains Cymone. “He was a boxing prodigy.”
The league shut down in 2003, which left Veronica to fly Cymone out to California to compete for the 2004 Olympic trials. During a fight, Veronica began to shout support from the stands. Cymone could hear her. Soon someone behind her began to feed her instructions.
“Tell him to settle down,” the man said. “He’s too wild.”
She shouted his instruction. Cymone settled, then won.
The man was Virgil Hunter - who trained 2004 Olympic gold medalist and current light heavyweight title holder Andre Ward.
Later that year, Hunter began to train Cymone, who traveled to California during breaks as he finished his senior year at Ozen.
Cymone’s fame spread across Beaumont.
Classmates and students from other schools challenged him to fights. The police told Veronica local gangs were initiating members by having them challenge Cymone.
“To be honest, I always liked it because I always won, and every time I would win then my name - it would always be my name,” Cymone said.
“Just not having my father - and not having a father figure - I had a void,” he continued. “I was very insecure. So that’s what made me feel good until I actually came to an understanding that the only person that could make me whole is Jesus Christ.”
That understanding came later.
The same year Cymone stepped up to his church’s altar to receive salvation was also the year he took his “first puff of marijuana and first drink.”
“That’s when all hell began to break loose in my life,” Cymone said.
In Beaumont, Cymone walked the streets, fought, drank, smoked and popped pills. Then, when it was time to train with Virgil, he sobered up and traveled to California.
He found drugs there.
For the first time in his life, Cymone began to lose.
He didn’t make it out of the Olympic trials in 2008 and 2012.
He was named a Team USA alternate in 2008, but by the time he heard, he had stopped training and returned to drugs. In 2012, he fought through concussions he got in two separate car accidents - which he hid from Hunter.
“I don’t give up easy,” said Hunter, who spent 33 years working with youth in the probations department in California. “But I’m not moved by much also, because I’ve seen so much by young men. It was a disappointment to fall short. But every world class trainer can tell you a story about a kid who didn’t make it.”
After the 2012 loss, Hunter wrote a letter to Cymone that he should take some time off. Cymone felt his trainer was telling him to leave the sport for good.
So he did.
Four years later, Cymone was a personal trainer in Beaumont. He and his girlfriend, Sharon Simon, had two children, and Cymone’s home was filled with liquor, drugs, and books that “were programming (his) mind to the wrong things.”
He felt lost.
One night in December 2015, he was about to leave the house, and he left his car running to retrieve something he forgot.
“When I walked back into my room, I got to my door and I stopped,” Cymone said. “And I couldn’t move, and I felt something pull me back... I turned around and I saw the Bible, and then I grabbed the Bible, and when I grabbed the Bible, my eyes, I just started weeping.”
Sharon woke and asked what was wrong.
“I was just like, let me have this moment,” he said. “Being saved is being saved spiritually. I was leading people to darkness versus leading them to truth. And I realized I had to do something.”
Cymone took all the liquor, the drugs, the books and threw it into his barbecue pit in the backyard and lit them on fire.
“I started throwing up,” he said. “I couldn’t eat for three straight days. I couldn’t sleep... And when I went to the hospital, they told me if I had stayed out any longer, that my kidney was failing and my muscles were totally depleted.”
Cymone said he spent a week at Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital. When he was released, he decided to focus on his life away from boxing.
“I started being disciplined, I started being obedient,” he said.
This past April, he visited Hunter and Ward in California. He was surrounded by boxing again. And he remembered how a California pastor had prophesied to him that he would win a gold medal.
Hunter told him he’d been out too long to try to make a comeback.
Cymone didn’t listen.
On Dec. 15 - just a year after finding his salvation again - Cymone won the Elite USA Boxing National Championship in Kansas City, losing just two rounds out of 20.
He is now Team USA’s No. 1 boxer in his weight class (178 pounds) and will fight in his first international tournament in Kazakhstan on Feb. 7.
The Tokyo Olympics are four years away - a stretch of time that Hunter believes he will likely lose his athletic prime.
But, he has a few professional offers.
For now, he is set on training with Team USA.
“I don’t have to rush into anything right now,” said Cymone, who leaves for the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs this month. “I want to enjoy the fruits of our labor, travel the world, represent the people of Beaumont, Texas, make my people proud and do right.”