Knocking out addiction and inspiring others, one fight at a time

Pro-boxer Devon Alexander beats addiction, rises from poverty and inspires niece sophomore Samari Sanders in the process

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Photo courtesy of: Samari Sanders

Posing for a picture Sunday, Dec. 12, sophomore Samari Sanders and uncle Devon Alexander sport sweatshirts from his merchandise line. Sanders treasures her close relationship with her uncle, drawing inspiration from him in everything she does. “I don’t think I would be the person I am today without him,” Sanders said.

Sophomore Samari Sanders’ feet pound against the track, blood rushes to her head and her heart thumps in her chest. Her legs burn in agony as her body screams at her to stop running, but her mind urges her to keep going, all thanks to her uncle: pro-boxer Devon Alexander.

Alexander “The Great” escaped a rough upbringing by way of boxing, eventually earning around 26 national titles and making it to the Olympic trial finals when he was just 17 — only two years older than Sanders is currently.

“I grew up in a very impoverished neighborhood, very less fortunate. I always wanted to do something besides just go home or be in the typical gangs, around drugs or around the negative stereotypes that I was seeing. At my elementary school, my coach was starting a boxing gym and I thought it sounded pretty interesting,” Alexander said. “My mom let my older brothers go, but she didn’t let me go at first because she knew the type of danger [my neighborhood was]. I begged her for two weeks straight to let me go until she knew it was safe. From the first day I went, my coach said I was smiling the whole time I was there. I was enjoying myself. I’ve been [to the boxing gym] ever since [then].”

Another one of his passions includes inspiring kids around the world to be the best they can be and normalizing “growing up poor” and still being able to succeed in life. Sanders says that one of the people he inspires the most is her.

“[My uncle] inspires me to be great,” Sanders said. “[He inspires me to] give my best effort in everything I do, never give up [and] inspire others as well. When I’m doing something great, [I] should help someone else out and make sure that they’re doing [their best] as well.”

One of the moments that Sanders felt the most inspired by her uncle was when she tried out for track last year.

When I’m doing something great, [I] should help someone else out and make sure that they’re doing [their best] as well.”

— Samari Sanders

“When I first was going to do track last year, I was really nervous because I [had] never ran track before. It was big stuff for me, so I asked [my uncle] for advice,” Sanders said. “He went beyond the advice and made sure that I did really [well]. He helped train me, made sure that I ran and took me to a track. I was really proud of myself [for finishing the season] because I thought so many times about quitting; I thought [track] wasn’t for me, but I’m glad I stuck through it.”

Beyond giving her track-specific advice, Alexander also gave her advice that was born out of his wisdom gained from boxing and previous mentors. 

“[My uncle told me] if I love doing it then [I should] continue doing it and giving it my best, but to only do it if I want to,” Sanders said. “He taught me to keep striving for the best.”

Alexander was not always the “perfect” role model he is today. In order to make it to where he is today, he had to overcome an opioid addiction caused by being prescribed painkillers after surgery in 2012. Previous to this, he had stayed clean his whole life, despite the high crime and drug rate associated with his neighborhood.

“When I came out and told the world [about the addiction] I was facing, a lot of people were surprised because I was a clean cut, normal kid. Never did drugs and never wanted to even touch them. I was dealing with [addiction] for two years and it really woke me up to a different side of myself and helped me inspire another group of people that I didn’t touch at first,” Alexander said. “I’m a motivational person and I’m not perfect. I don’t walk like I’m perfect, I don’t walk like I don’t go through things. Everybody is going to go through things in life, you just gotta make sure you come out on top of it and not beat up too bad when you’ve worn through that storm.”

Throughout his struggles and triumphs, Sanders still considers Alexander her greatest role model and inspiration.

“My uncle has always been a big inspiration to me,” Sanders said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have the mindset I have now. He’s definitely made me a much stronger person mentally and physically.”