Bob Russo’s cell phone started ringing early Friday morning and never stopped. The world wanted to know what he knew of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and what he thought of the older of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers.
“I’ve got 65 calls,” said Russo, who soon let them go to voicemail. “All media requests. This guy was a Golden Gloves fighter and he was on a team I coached at the national tournament but I barely knew him. His personal coach came with us.”
Russo is the Portland Boxing Club. He’s nurtured the sport in Portland for decades. In another two weeks he’ll be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame for that reason. But Tamerlan Tsarnaev never walked through the door to his gym.
Russo recoiled like everyone else at Monday’s horror. He saw Tsarnaev’s photo, didn’t make the connection and had to reconcile a monster with a kid who knew how to smile like anyone else when he won.
Elsewhere in Portland, Russell Lamour woke up Friday to a phone call telling him the heavyweight on that 2009 Golden Gloves team was one of the two most hunted men in America. Younger brother and alleged fellow bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the other.
Lamour, a Deering High graduate, was a light heavyweight on that team of New England Golden Gloves amateur fighters. He was incredulous. You don’t forget a name like Tamerlan. But linking a name to the memory to Monday’s bloodshed was too much to absorb.
Then his cell phone started ringing incessantly. Lamour called Russo, his trainer and friend. What do I do?
Liz Leddy got early morning phone calls from network news shows. She’s a Golden Gloves champion, a Portland Boxing Club fighter and she, too, was caught up in this six degrees of separation. She, Russo and Lamour were suddenly swept into a big picture not of their making.
Calls to her cell phone into Friday night were answered by a recorded message: The customer was not accepting phone calls. Please try later.
“People think I knew this guy or I was friends with him,” said Lamour. “I wasn’t, believe me.” Guilt by association? No way.
This is our world. Instant assumptions, instant judgments. If something happens and doesn’t make sense, find someone to explain. That led the media to Russo, Lamour and Leddy, whose only common ground with the bomber was a sport, and for Russo and Lamour, a brief, casual meeting as teammates in Salt Lake City in 2009.
Russo saw a quiet, humble and very competent amateur fighter. Tsarnaev’s interaction with others on that trip was limited by language, said Russo. But then, that’s not unusual. Boxing is a melting-pot sport, bringing together people from different cultures, different places. The Portland Boxing Club is no different.
Lamour is Haitian-American and proud of his heritage. He’s just beginning his pro career, and in a nod to the showmanship of boxing, is the Haitian Sensation. He’s committed to his sport. You must be, if you rise to the level of regional Golden Gloves champion. But when Lamour thinks of Tsarnaev’s act of terror, he finds no common ground.
So they were teammates for a week. They didn’t room together, didn’t spar together, didn’t train together and didn’t even eat together. Lamour and a few other fighters invited Tsarnaev to find something to eat in Salt Lake City. Tsarnaev declined. He was friendly but kept to himself. Even then he couldn’t mingle.
Tsarnaev was a foreign national and ordinarily wouldn’t have been allowed to fight in the national Golden Gloves tournament. Golden Gloves champs are invited to the U.S. Olympic trials, but 2009 was between summer games. Tsarnaev lost early in the tournament, said Lamour. He disappeared.
“What can I say about him?” said Russo, who juggles his duties training Lamour, running the boxing club and now serving as the director of New England Golden Gloves. He saw a tiny segment of Tsarnaev’s life. He didn’t know the man.
His telephone kept ringing Friday.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: