July 10, 2017 -- Competing in the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio as a 165-pound boxer was an eye opening experience for Heights High alumnus Charles Conwell, ‘16. While he was new to the Olympic arena and the youngest member of the Olympic boxing team, he had an impressive list of titles, including Junior Olympics, Golden Gloves and USA Boxing Youth National Champion.
But the Olympics are different. He was matched against 24-year-old, two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan of India. The match was difficult and disappointing for Charles. According to the USA Boxing News: Conwell landed a strong combination of punches in the final 30 seconds of the first round, and came out quick in the second round, landing an eye catching combination midway through the round. He showed real aggression in the third round but the Indian boxer took a 3-0 decision in the bout.
"My Olympic experience did not go as planned, but I made the most of it," Conwell said. "By fighting internationally, I got to see a lot of different styles of fighters and took some of the good qualities and added it to my style, which will help me become an even a better fighter.”
Being a part of an Olympic team included marching in the opening ceremonies, walking behind the US flag into a stadium full of cheering spectators. "I was in awe during the Opening Ceremonies because there were so many people and they were cheering for us," Conwell said. “Seeing all of those athletes and being a part of that made me very proud to be an American.”
While in Rio, he met American athletes from other sports, including gymnast Gabrielle Douglas and several members of the men’s basketball team and fellow Clevelander Kyrie Irving. “Everyone was so nice, Gabby is about my age so we had lots to talk about and the basketball players were always joking about wanting to get in the ring with me,” he said.
His family joined him in Rio and, as always, are his biggest fans and support system. His father, Charles Conwell Senior has been his coach since Charles Junior began boxing 10 years ago and his mother who helps him with his scheduling and publicity. “My family is always there for me, no matter what. They support me in my boxing and in every part of my life. I am really grateful for them,” he said.
While in Rio, he explored the city with his family and one of the places that they visited was a favela, or poor neighborhood. “That was a real eye opener,” he said. “The homes are very small, the people use and collect the things that Americans throw away and the sewage runs through the street. It really made me think about how fortunate we are here.”
When he remembers his senior year at Heights High, he talks about the supportive teachers, the guidance he received from Administrative Principal Zoraba Ross, going to the Senior Prom with his girlfriend Imari and the Olympic sendoff parade and ceremony hosted by the school on May 23.
The parade was at the end of the school day with students and community members lining the short parade route around the school. The parade included a convertible for Charles and his parents, the Heights High Marching Band and cheerleaders and Cleveland Heights Police and University Heights police and fire trucks. After the parade students gathered on the school’s front lawn to hear comments by University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld, Principal Zoraba Ross, Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon and Charles.
Two of Charles' teachers, Joyce Bukovac and Becky McDonald, presented Charles with 14 packets of notes of encouragement from students and staff – one to open each day he was in Rio.
“That was a really emotional day for me,” said Charles. “Seeing everyone in the school there and the Mayor and Superintendent, it was so great. I felt that everyone was behind me. I really appreciated that. Having the letters to read every day kept me going, especially after I lost. Those letters motivated me to keep going and not quit.”
He feels lucky to have so many supportive people in his life, his parents, brothers and sisters and several adults at the school. “Mr. Ross has been more than my principal, he is a mentor and helps me with life lessons in every aspect of my life,” he said.
Charles was part of the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) from seventh grade through graduation. “The teachers and students in AVID are my school family, they support and help me,” he said. “The teachers especially helped me when I was out of school and traveling for matches.”
It is easy to forget that this exceptional athlete and young man is also a typical 19 year-old. “One of the best things about my senior year was going to Prom with Imari and my friends. I thought I might not be able to go because there was of a bout scheduled for that weekend in Cuba, but luckily, the Olympic Committee said I could stay home and go to Prom!,” he said.
What’s next for this talented young man? He recently signed a management deal with Split T Management and a co-promotional agreement with Lou DiBella and Tony Holden. The company also signed his brother, Isaiah Steen.
His professional boxing debut took place in April at Buffalo Run Casino & Resort in Miami, Oklahoma, where he scored his first pro win.