NYSAC Profile – Boyd Melson

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Boyd “The Rainmaker” Melson’s journey to the squared circle was not typical. And typical is also not the word one would use to describe his career in boxing and how he leverages the sport to give back selflessly to others.

Melson, originally from Brooklyn, is a southpaw junior middleweight boxer who had aspirations of becoming a doctor.  In order to achieve this dream, he took his life into his own hands just four days after graduating from high school. He made the decision to pursue his undergraduate education at The United States Military Academy at West Point.

His decision to join the prestigious Academy was for a number of reasons. Melson wanted to proudly serve and defend the country of his birth.  Additionally, he recognized that he could get his medical degree financed by the school upon graduation as he intended on applying to medical school in which only two-percent of each United States Military Academy class may proceed to and fully paid for upon completing their prerequisites.  With his work ethic, he had no doubt he’d succeed.

Boyd Melson with West Point Cadets after one of his matches.

However, his biggest motivator to attend West Point was to show his parents gratitude for raising him. You see, his father is a veteran who served for 26 years in the armed forces, six years in the United States Navy and another 20 years in the United States Army, attaining the rank of First Sergeant and teaching JROTC to High School students. An apt tribute indeed!

It was at West Point that Melson’s life and original career path took a turn.  As a West Point Cadet during his freshman year, he took a mandatory physical education class, which was a requirement in order to graduate from the Academy.  In the sweet science, Cadets learn important qualities that are intrinsic in becoming a Commissioned Officer for the United States Army, specifically, how to trust in your own abilities while in harm’s way. Perhaps Melson thrived in this challenge thrown at him at West Point because it nurtured his self-confidence as well as his competitiveness and love for any contest involving physical contact.  In his own words, Melson states “boxing is a sport in which you ultimately need to rely only on yourself, trust your decisions and athletic capabilities while thinking strategically.”

The boxing class was the start of his path towards becoming a professional fighter.  Before competing on the inter-collegiate level, Melson signed up for the West Point Brigade Open, competing in the same weight class as the senior Captain of West Point’s collegiate team, who had many more years of experience as the freshman who had just taken up the sport.  He made it to the finals, knocking out the West Point Boxing Team Captain in the third round in front of the entire school. Melson went on to win the same tournament all four years he attended West Point, which at the time, had only been achieved by 10 other Cadets at the Academy’s 200-plus year history.

He committed himself to the sport at West Point and his amateur career began when he joined West Point’s collegiate boxing team where he became a National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) National Champion.  Upon graduating West Point, he was assigned to the Army’s World Class Athlete Program and earned a position on the U.S. National Team.  Melson went on to win the gold in the 48th World Military Boxing Championship in the welterweight division.  

His accomplishments inside the squared circle took off from there.  He was a four-time United States Army champion, a three-time National Collegiate Boxing Association All-American boxer  and received the Colonel Marcus Award. He also won gold medals at the All-Army Boxing Championships four times and at the Armed Forces Boxing Championships three times. He made it to the quarterfinals in the welterweight 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships, and won a bronze medal at the 2005 U.S. Boxing Championships and silver in 2006. Melson earned a spot to compete at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials with only five non-collegiate bouts under his belt after graduating from West Point. He was an Alternate for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, but gave up his spot after re-injuring his shoulder, requiring surgery for a second time. Regardless, this sudden career “turn” was working out splendidly. 

Another turning point in Melson’s life again occurred at West Point…one that would also influence his boxing career.  He met a young woman named Christan Zaccagnino during his summer leave from West Point and this encounter altered the course of both their lives.  Christan broke her neck at the age of 10 after a diving accident, becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Due to their once-in-a-lifetime bond in friendship and his interest in medicine, Melson devoted time to studying spinal cord injuries. Ultimately, after meeting Dr. Wise Young, he learned about the Doctor’s work to bring the first ever U.S.-based clinical trial involving umbilical cord stem cells that was showing incredible potential in providing a cure for these types of injuries.

Boyd “The Rainmaker” Melson with Christan Zaccagnino

Throughout their friendship, he went with Zaccagnino to other countries to so she can undergo experimental procedures and he got a much fuller understanding on the subject, beyond what the textbooks could tell him.

Eventually, Melson’s commitment to his friend and his passion for boxing made him pursue a professional boxing career in 2010. However, to him, the sweet science wasn’t just about winning or for the glory. For Melson, boxing was a voice for progress. It became about giving people who have suffered from spinal cord injuries hope and to make their dreams of being able to walk again come true. For this reason alone, he donates the entire purse from his winnings directly towards helping fund Dr. Young’s pending clinical trial, aimed at helping people with spinal cord injuries ultimately walk again.

In order to show how truly committed (there goes that word again) he was to the cause, Melson joined Zaccagnino and together they founded a non-profit organization called Team Fight to Walk.  The organizations objective is to raise awareness in the U.S. and beyond about the horrendous effects caused by spinal cord injuries, especially throughout the U.S. veteran community, where thousands are afflicted. Additionally, another important objective is to bring clinical trials to the U.S. in order to find a cure for spinal cord injuries and the debilitating neurological conditions, such as Traumatic Brain Injury, as an example.   

Team Fight to Walk serves not only as a platform for a shared vision-a cure for chronic spinal cord injuries- but as an opportunity for Melson, a former Olympic boxing alternate, to practice the sweet science with its unique combination of cerebral and physical prowess. Today, Melson and Zaccagnino have raised approximately $230,000 for the organization with every penny going directly towards helping fund Dr. Young’s clinical trial, and their efforts are ongoing.

The money raised is channeled into JustADollarPlease.org, a nonprofit organization that supports the labors of Dr. Wise Young, who is the director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University. Through fundraising and through additional networks, Dr. Young hopes to bring the clinical trials to patients by 2014 in the U.S., where 300,00 Americans suffer from spinal cord injuries. Following the conclusion of almost all Melson’s bouts, he speaks to the crowd and asks for their help in donating as little as one dollar to the cause. He points out that over 300,000 Americans live with paralysis. 40,000 are veterans, of which over 7,000 were paralyzed as a result of serving their country – in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, respectively – since 2001. He states that every 41 minutes in the United States, somebody new becomes paralyzed from a spinal cord injury.

Apart from his professional boxing career (he is currently 13-1-1 with 4 KO’s), Melson continues to serve his country as a Captain in the United States Army Reserve in Fort Totten, Queens for the 1st Mobilization Support Group. There, he is responsible for making sure all the soldiers are mission capable for deployment. In addition, Melson obtained his Masters in Business Administration from Touro College and teaches fitness classes at Equinox Fitness Clubs throughout Manhattan, as well as advising stem cell companies and non-profits.

When asked what advice he can give people who want to make a difference in life, his response was to pursue a formal academic education since it is the key to learning more about yourself and about those who grew up differently than you.  He believes pursing something you deeply love will expose who one really is and what you personal legend is meant to be. He states that education will also give one the necessary tools to offer something back to the world – a world that we all share as we laugh and cry.

For all his efforts, it seems Melson has made the sweet science just that much sweeter.

For more information on Team Fight to walk, go to http://teamfighttowalk.com/