Photo by Ralph Salomon
BOHEMIA—This summer, Connetquot High School junior Ralph Clemente was named champion at the National Junior Olympic Championship that was held in West Virginia. It was quite a feat for the 16-year-old, but still not the fulfillment of a dream. Clemente said he hopes that dream will be realized by competing in the 2020 Olympics.
Clemente’s dream began at the age of 5 when he first noticed the sport on a computer. “I loved the concept of boxing,” he said. “But my parents were skeptical and didn’t want me to get hurt.”
However, over the years, he began following the sport on videos and persisted in pressing his parents for that opportunity. He was finally given it at the age of 13.
“I was helping my dad move some things…and then he drove me to a gym in Ronkonkoma, Heavy Hitters, and signed me up.”
It wasn’t until after he began training that his dad told him that before he was born, he and his mother attended boxing events. “It’s funny how things work out,” Clemente remarked.
Before he signed up his son for training, John Clemente had been battling leukemia. “I didn’t want to hold him back,” he said. “He took right to it and has been working very hard since. He’s passionate about it.”
Now recovered, the elder Clemente said he enjoys watching his son working out and competing. “I knew when he puts his mind to something, he can do anything he wants.”
Clemente now trains at Atlantic Veterans Memorial Boxing Academy in Bellport and has done so for many years. Mike Murphy, one of his trainers, said that he has full confidence in all of Clemente’s matches. “He’s very driven and dedicated,” Murphy noted.
“Training drives me harder,” said Clemente, who works out and trains six to seven hours daily and maintains a healthy diet. During the school year, he trains after school until 11 p.m. and begins training again the next day at 6 a.m. before classes. He’s managed to keep up with his studies despite his busy schedule.
Although he’s tried out other sports such as football and wrestling in school, he has now dedicated all of his time to boxing. He said the sport makes him feel “ecstatic. It surpassed all of my expectations.”
Dan Rhodes, another of his trainers, said that aside from being a good athlete, Clemente has proven that he is a good person, often working with younger trainees at the not-for-profit academy, and setting a good example for others. “The kids in the gym really look up to him,” said Rhodes. ”He’s a big asset to the gym.”
Clemente said that although all boxers are focused in the ring to win, once the match is over, there are no hostilities toward opponents. “We’re all actually friends,” he said. “That’s the best part about the sport.”
In addition to his recent national title, since the young athlete began boxing he’s been named two-time Junior Olympic Metro champion, three-time New York State champion and two-time National finalist. When asked where he thinks boxing will take him in the next few years, he noted, “I want to win the gold medal in the 2020 Olympics and then go to the pros. I want to put my name in the history books for boxing; I want to be remembered as one of the greats.”
Though college is not exactly in his immediate plans, Clemente said, “I know I will get to college at one point in my life,” he said. “But for now, I’m getting ready for the Olympics.” And there will no doubt be many more matches to face before that goal as well.
In fact, on the day of this interview, Clemente was set to face a tougher, older opponent in another New York State competition that was set to take place that night in Brooklyn. He went on to win it in three rounds. In another telephone interview the next day, he said, “I thought it would be a tough fight, but I won every round.”
The young athlete is convinced he is on a winning streak.
“There will be people who believe in me and give me the encouragement and support, and then there will be people who don’t believe in me. I like them both,” he said, noting the former for obvious reasons and the latter because “they keep my head out of the clouds. They drive me harder.”
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