Sgt. Javier S. Amador
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
Many people dream of being an elite athlete, to compete at a level that only a chosen few will ever see. They sacrifice countless hours of hard work, maintain extreme diets and risk grave injury, all in an effort to live that dream. They do so with the knowledge that there are no guarantees of success.
Spc. Adrian McKinney, a water purification specialist with A Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, is working hard to turn his dream into reality. McKinney recently competed in the 2013 All Army Boxing Trials held at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he won the light-middleweight class.
McKinney admitted that he did not always have the courage to pursue his dream. Shyly looking away as he spoke, he described how it all began with the help of his father, a retired Army first sergeant. Later, he received help from teammates and coaches at posts where he has been stationed since joining the Army in 2008.
“When I was a kid, my dad wanted me to start early but I was a bit afraid,” McKinney said. “But after coming into the Army, I got the courage.”
In 2010, at his first stateside duty station after completing a yearlong tour in Korea, he began
boxing at a post gym. There he found people who would give him training and fuel his enthusiasm for the sport. He admits that he got off to a late start; however, he didn’t allow that to discourage him.
“I was 20 years old when I first got started in boxing at Fort Polk, La.,” McKinney said. “There was a team there. Seeing the guys pushing so hard trying to be the best and seeing their teamwork (was inspiring).”
McKinney returned to Korea nearly 18 months later for another tour of duty where he continued to train with various coaches, some of whom were Korean. Always eager to expand his understanding of the sport, he took careful mental notes of the subtle differences between Korean and American tactics. McKinney emphasized that the rules are the same; the
differences are mainly in style, such as in choosing what kind of punch or combination of punches, or whether or not to rotate the wrist.
“It was more in how they jabbed,” McKinney said in describing the Korean style. “They tend to want to throw the jab vertical instead of straight.”
He credited the coaches he trained under while he was stationed overseas, as well as opportunities to spar with boxers of varying ability levels, for advancing his skills.
“I had amazing coaches over there, and I got to work with some professional boxers,” McKinney said.
The specialist’s ultimate goal is boxing at the professional level, but for now he is working on becoming a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.
The WCAP is a program for exceptional Soldier-athletes to compete at the national and inter-
national level, ultimately leading to a qualification on the U.S. Olympic Team. To qualify for the WCAP, a Soldier must be ranked nationally by the governing body of his or her chosen sport and be certified at the world-class level by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
That would mean McKinney would need to place in the top six at the U.S. National Championships or in the top six at the Golden Gloves Championships within the past 24 months.
His coach, Charles Berkman, head coach and trainer at the Black River Boxing Academy in Watertown, is well acquainted with McKinney’s background and the tough road he will need to travel to make his dream a reality. Berkman said he believes the potential is definitely there.
“There is no one school where you learn how to teach boxing,” Berkman said. “Everybody has a different approach, a different philosophy, but he came in with pretty good basics that I was able to help him build on.”
More importantly, Berkman noted that McKinney's immense capacity for learning the technical aspects – the complex combinations of moves as well as the mental aspects – along with his prodigious work ethic, makes him a serious contender for a place among the Army's most elite athletes.
“The biggest thing that aids him is that he listens, he thinks, he analyzes, and he has an incredible work ethic,” Berkman said.
The coach also commented on McKinney's discipline and his willingness to work through physical and mental hurdles, such as training through sickness and after working long hours. Those are traits that make McKinney the Soldier and junior leader he is, according to Sgt. Kelly Olegeriil, McKinney’s squad leader.
“This guy is an excellent Soldier,” Olegeriil said. “He is one of my team leaders with four Soldiers underneath him. He takes care of what he has to do and makes sure his people know what they've got to do. If I had more Soldiers like him, my job would be much easier.”
With every Soldier typically beginning the work day with physical training, or PT, McKinney’s conditioning has yielded benefits. He consistently “maxes” the Army Physical Fitness Test by scoring the maximum 100 points in each of the three events – pushups, sit-ups and two-mile run.
“Regarding PT, this guy has scored five consecutive 300s on his PT test,” Olegeriil said. “And if you gave him one right now, he would get another 300.”
McKinney does not just excel in physical training for himself; he also strives to instill the confidence in his fellow Soldiers to push themselves to go the distance and to strive for excellence themselves in their PT.
“He motivates his Soldiers (and) makes sure that they are doing the right thing. He doesn’t just do it for himself,” Olegeriil said.
McKinney soon will have another opportunity to get one step closer to fulfilling his dream in an upcoming boxing tournament, where he hopes that his hard work and careful preparations will pay off. However, he takes everything that he has experienced so far with humility that many people who know him have come to admire.
“I have the Ringside World Championships coming up in Kansas City, Kan., around July 31 that I hope to compete in, and whether I win or don't win, I’m still going to be training hard, and if the doors open for me, I would eventually like to go pro,” McKinney said. “But I first want to compete in the Army's WCAP and eventually make it to the Olympics, but if doesn’t work out, I can stay in the Army.”