By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Most 19-year-olds think about college and fun when they graduate from high school, but Troy Isley has been winning world championships and thinking about the Olympics.
The recent T.C. Williams High School graduate is back at work in the ring at the Alexandria Boxing Club with a new accessory – a bronze medal from the 2017 Elite Men’s World Championships in Hamburg, Germany. Isley was awarded the medal days before his 19th birthday in early September.
“Standing on the podium at the World Championship and getting a medal … that was a great moment of my amateur career so far,” Isley said.
The international win has been a long time coming. As a member of the USA Boxing Team, Isley has won several national titles over the past three years. He was most recently named the 2016 USA Boxing Elite National Champion – the top boxer in his weight class in the country. If Isley continues his upward trajectory, he hopes to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Troy’s really just starting to break the mold of what we knew his potential is in the boxing game,” said Dara Shen, team manager at the Alexandria Boxing Club. “This is only the beginning for him.”
Shen has watched Isley grow as a boxer since he started at 9 years old. From the beginning, Isley has been working with the same coach, Kay Koroma.
“It’s like a father son relationship. He’s like a second dad. He’d do anything that I need,” Isley said.
Koroma accompanied Isley to Germany for the world championships.
“It was great,” Koroma said, “just to see another one of my kids … accomplish something that I used to always tell them they could do when they were young.”
The Alexandria Boxing Club is sponsored by Fight for Children, a D.C. nonprofit organization. The club’s facilities are located inside the Charles Houston Recreation Center.
Like a lot of boxers who come to the club, Isley began boxing because he was fighting in the streets. One day, after getting into a fight near the rec center, a staff member took him to the club’s coaches.
“They were like, ‘This kid’s bad. He’s always fighting,’” Isley remembered. “And Kay was like, ‘I’ll do something with him.’”
Isley was one of Koroma’s first pupils. Koroma had been a fighter himself at the Alexandria Boxing Club under the club’s current head coach, Dennis Porter. Over the past three years, Koroma has become one of the top trainers in the world, traveling with athletes to more than 12 international events, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I had a vision for myself that I would train my kids different from any other athletes that I’d seen people train before. And that’s what I did,” Koroma said. “Coaching with Troy, and coaching, period, in Alexandria has been great, because I do it more for the community.”
Koroma welcomes local kids to spend time at the Alexandria Boxing Club, even if they are not boxers themselves.
“They can come in there and watch amateur champions and world boxing champions and believe that they can be something in life,” Koroma said. “It doesn’t have to be boxing; they can just push themselves.”
Coaches and staff at the Alexandria Boxing Club have been dedicating their time to the organization for decades, both inside and outside of the ring. Beyond training, Shen said that they maintain a strong sense of community by making sure their athletes work hard in school, have access to healthy food and have a safe place to hang out together.
The club’s success is evident not only in the coaches’ commitment, but in the number of national and international champions it has produced. In addition to Isley, Porter said the club has about ten boxers who have won titles, including Shakur Stevenson, who earned a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.
As Isley prepares to defend his national title and eventually work toward the Olympics, boxing is his fulltime job. He practices at the gym in Alexandria six days a week.
When he goes into a fight, Isley excels in strength, speed and adaptability. While he admitted to getting nervous beforehand, he said, “Once I get in the ring, my mind is clear. I’m just thinking about the fight. … Once I get in the ring, everything changes. I adapt.”
“If he sees that he’s fighting the wrong fight, he’ll stop and change his game plan up,” Koroma said.
Koroma said Isley’s only weakness was being too aggressive, going into a fight too hard and too fast with power. As he’s grown as a boxer, however, he has honed his skills.
“He uses his mind more than his physicality,” Koroma said. “I like that more now. He’s open-minded to things, and he’s learned from all his mistakes.”
The next step for Isley in chasing his Olympic dream is to defend his title as USA Boxing Elite National Champion. After that, Olympic qualifiers will take place in 2019.
“I have to continue to train and get stronger, get smarter, box, study, keep studying, just stay in the gym and take it one day at time,” Isley said. “I picture myself being an Olympic gold medalist.”
“He’s coming in being a young man, and there’s a lot of things being thrown at you,” Porter said. “So if he can just stay focused, then his life can be already written out for him. Once he wins this Olympics, he’s not gonna have to worry about anything.”