Real men donate their purses to charity
December 2, 2013 by Howard Blas
Jewish boxer Boyd Melson is going eight rounds for Team Fight to Walk on Wednesday in NY to help those with spinal injuries
For Boyd â€œRainmakerâ€ Melson, life at the United States Military Academy at West Point was not easy. West Point demands physical and academic discipline, and even periodic â€œwhite gloveâ€ room inspections. Lucky for Melson, it also requires a semester-long
class in boxing.
â€œThe goal of the course is to teach you to face your fears with no one to lean on. It teaches you to stand up for yourself. You are really exposed and naked when alone in the ring,â€ says Melson, 32, now a professional light middleweight boxer with a career record of 12 wins, one loss and one draw with four knockouts. He is a 2013 inductee to the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
â€œI started to knock out opponents. And I won the school championship as a freshman,â€ says Melson, who soon found himself practicing at both 5:30 am and 4:30 pm, while carrying a difficult academic load.
â€œIf you are not an engineering major, you must have an engineering minor. I majored in psychology and minored in nuclear engineering,â€ says Melson.
An army brat, Melson was born in Brooklyn, New York to a Creole father, Nolan, born in Louisiana, and a Jewish mother, Annette, born in Israel to Polish Holocaust survivors.
â€œHer mother fled to Uzbekistan and spent a year in prison; her father was conscripted by the Russian army, and their four children were all born in different places â€” Uzbekistan, Austria, Canada and Israel,â€ says Melson.
How did Annette and Nolan Melson decide to bring up the children Jewish?
â€œThere was no negotiation,â€ says Boyd laughing, â€œYou know Jewish moms. She said, â€˜I am Jewish and our household is Jewish!â€™â€
Boyd attended yeshiva for kindergarten (â€œI hated itâ€) and Hebrew school three days a week at Temple Beth El in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. Melson celebrated his bar mitzvah in Brooklyn and â€œwas taken to Israel as a bar mitzvah present.â€
West Point was his fatherâ€™s choice of school, but one night during his junior year, Melsonâ€™s sense of purpose and mission in life changed abruptly. He was visiting his folks in White Plains, NY, and went out with friends to The Thirsty Turtle, a dance club and lounge.
â€œI saw a girl who was out with her friends, dancing and a little tipsy,â€ he recalls. Melson was immediately interested in her and started dancing with Christan Zaccagnino â€” who was in a wheelchair.
â€œI crouched down low and we danced,â€ says Melson, matter of factly. The two began dating soon after.
Boyd Melson and Christan Zaccagnino, currently not dating, but still great friends.
Zaccagnino had broken her neck and become a quadriplegic in 1993 at the age of ten after jumping in to a pool. She became Melsonâ€™s inspiration, in and out of the ring.
Melson continued to study (he graduated West Point in 2003 and earned an MBA at Touro College) and box â€” he was a three time All American, a four time West Point Brigade Open Boxing champion, and earned a spot as an alternate on the 2008 US Olympic boxing team.
Before going pro in 2010, Melson worked as a medical devices representative for Johnson and Johnson.
Since 2010, when Melson and Zaccagnino, still great friends, though no longer dating, founded Team Fight to Walk to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries, he has devoted his time to training full-time
as a boxer for charity. He donates every penny of his boxing earnings to justadollarplease.org, in support of a clinical trial to test promising treatments for spinal cord injuries.
Zaccagnino says, â€œI knew Boyd loved boxing and he loved to help people, so I helped him find his passion.â€
â€œIn the US alone, where a spinal cord injury occurs every 43 minutes, there are 300,000 people living with the tragic after-effects. And 40,000 of them are US Armed forces Veterans,â€ says Melson.
â€œThe field of regenerative medicine is exploding and holds great promise for the treatment of these injuries,â€ says Melson.
JustADollarPlease.org is the fundraising project of SCINetUSA, the clinical trial network launched to test promising treatments for spinal cord injury in the United States. SCINetUSA is a partner with ChinaSCINet, the 25 center clinical trial network in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, where clinical trials have already started.
SCINetUSA supports the work of Dr. Wise Young, the director of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Youngâ€™s clinical trials in China have already begun to show promise, says Melson, who has observed successes there after umbilical cells are injected to the spinal cord, and a patient is given six months of walking therapy. Young hopes to bring similar clinical trials to 40 patients in the US by 2014.
â€œIf five million people each give $1, then we will have a cure. We potentially have the winning lottery ticket without the money to buy a ticket!â€ says Melson.
Melson reports, â€œI have experienced firsthand how adult stem cells can improve quality of life. I live to help Christan and others like her.â€
The two have traveled the world together in search of an intervention which will get Zaccagnino up and walking.
â€œBoyd and I are relentless,â€ says Zaccagnino. â€œAnd he takes relentless to a whole new level.â€
Melson is currently deep in training for his December 4 bout at BB King Blues Club and Grill where he faces Gundrick King in the eight round main event.
In and out of the ring, Melson is committed to â€œthe cause.â€ Even his jewelry, clothing and nickname tell the story of his current passions, commitments and causes.
A black bracelet on his left wrist with gold writing says â€œTeam Fight to Walk.â€ A blue bracelet on his right wrist says â€œClinical Trials Now.â€ He wears a necklace with both a chai pendant and boxing gloves. And his boxing trunks feature symbols he chose in the summer of 2010, leading up to his professional career: a Star of David and a camoflauged wheelchair and West Point â€™03 (his graduating class).
The Star of David, says Melson, is to honor his Holocaust survivor grandparents.
â€œJudaism influences my choices by reminding me of the hardships that our people endure as a race in order to merely survive, and how the idea of loving humanity is the backbone of our religion,â€ says Melson.
The camouflage wheelchair, he says, is for wounded warriors, Fight To Walk, for Team Fight To Walk, and â€œChristanâ€™s battle along with the rest of the spinal cord injured worldâ€™s battles to get up out of their chairs.â€
In the ring, Melson is known as â€œRainmaker,â€ a name is taken from the movie, â€œThe Power of One.â€
â€œThe Rainmaker was the nickname given to the main character because he brings hope. The Rainmaker brings hope and thatâ€™s my goal for a cure for spinal cure injuries,â€ says Melson.
A win for Boyd Melson means a purse for Team Fight to Walk.