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August 27, 2015

The American Dream came close to being a nightmare for Philly's David Reid

Next year the 2016 Olympics will head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and it will mark the 20th anniversary of a special time for a special Philadelphia athlete, David Reid. This is a story of where David is today.

The room is small, dimly lit, but clean.

A flat-screen TV sits in the tiny parlor where the curtains are always drawn. Boxing magazines and books are splayed out across the floor and kitchen table, but the room is empty, devoid of any presence or personality.

David Reid prefers it this way. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist lives a cloistered, almost monastic life by choice. Reid rarely ventures from his modest two-bedroom apartment complex in Marquette, Mich., where he’s lived for the past nine years.

His days are spent reading various magazines and books – alone. He eats alone. He works out alone. He attends church alone.

Reid feels safe in the cocoon he’s created. More importantly, he knows where he is and that he can’t get lost, because there was a time when Reid was lost.

There was a time the Philadelphia native, who received a million-dollar pro signing bonus and debuted on HBO, ate his Thanksgiving dinner in a homeless shelter. There was a time when America’s Olympic hero came close to dying from heat exposure while sitting alone in his car during one of the hottest summers in Michigan’s history.

Those are the dark years, a time when Reid lost faith in friends and family. All are now gone, no longer a part of his life.

Reid doesn’t recall much from this time.

"I still love the sport," Reid said. "Ever since I was a kid, I fell in love with the sport. (But) I didn’t get enough rewards from the sport. It’s why I would rather not have anything to do with the sport."

He doesn’t remember the details of that sweltering summer day in 2005 when he sat in his car with the windows up, sweat raining down his face as he voraciously paged through his books, numb to what was happening to his overheated body.

The next thing Reid knew he was in the hospital. Reid survived and recovered, but he's not alright.

Today, Reid is about 30 pounds heavier than his fighting weight. He gets around well, but his speech comes in slow, halting starts and stops, each word measured.

He battles depression and far-ranging mood swings. Some days are good, some not so good.

It’s difficult to believe this same Philadelphia native was one of the biggest stories of the ’96 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Reid’s come-from-behind one-punch knockout of Cuban Alfredo Duvergel instantly generated worldwide fame. Reid, the lone American gold medalist in boxing, became the toast of a U.S. squad that included Floyd Mayweather Jr., Antonio Tarver and Fernando Vargas.

Those who watched the bout on NBC will never forget Marv Albert screaming, “Down goes Duvergel, Duvergel is hurt, David Reid connecting … It’s all over … David Reid has stunned Duvergel … In dramatic fashion, he has won the gold … What a moment for David Reid!”

Those who saw his ultimate triumph will never forget Reid jumping up and down all over the ring, hugging his coach and mentor, Al Mitchell, and waving a little American flag. It looked like a fairytale beginning for a good, genial kid that somehow survived the urban blight of North Philly.

Those were the good times, the moments fans thought Reid would always hold dear. However, he doesn’t, not anymore. Reid has pushed away those golden memories in favor of withdrawing from the outside world.

“I … like … to … be … by … myself,” Reid admitted in a halting, broken cadence. “I haven’t been doing much lately. I stay in the church. That’s about it and I take care of myself. I have an apartment in Marquette, Michigan, and I live. I don’t do anything at all. I was working out at one point with Al, but I… I… I’m not doing anything with boxing at all.

“I wouldn’t want to get into training and coaching or anything like that. I still have the eye problem and I can’t fight anymore. I still love the sport. Ever since I was a kid, I fell in love with the sport. (But) I didn’t get enough rewards from the sport. It’s why I would rather not have anything to do with the sport.

“I don’t want anything to do with the sport at all.”

Reid doesn’t like to look up when he speaks to people. He’s self-conscious about his droopy left eyelid, which looks far better than when he was fighting. He doesn’t see it that way. It’s one of the reasons Reid doesn’t like going out.

It's why he insulates himself inside a shell filled with books and magazines. They don’t stare back.

“I’m not going to say I look good or feel good. I train to keep my body in shape, and right now, I just read,” he said. “My whole take on life is not to have anything to do with boxing at all. I’m doing okay with everything else.”

Jesse Hart, a young rising prospect and son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, is one of a handful still close to Reid. Despite his boxing pedigree, Hart says Reid’s Olympic triumph is what inspired him to pursue an amateur career.

After each tournament he won, Hart couldn’t wait to get back to the locker room, rummage through his gym bag for his cell phone to tell Reid what he just did. Reid means more to Hart — and many, aspiring young Philadelphia fighters — than just a symbol of success. He’s part mentor, part big brother.

Although each time Hart asks Reid to come out and watch one of his fights, Reid declined.

“It’s hard seeing him this way,” Hart said. “I know the real David Reid, but he’s so self-conscious about his eye he barely goes out. He still does what he did when he used to fight. He’ll get up and run in the morning. When I stayed with him last year, we used to watch some old fight films. He just doesn’t talk to too many people these days. I’m one of the few people Dave still speaks with, and when I won the Olympic trials last summer, David helped me prepare for that.

“I want him to share these moments with me, and he won’t. He’s a guy who never wants to be seen, that’s just him; it’s hard for me to get through. I want to be there for Dave because he’s one of the reasons why I won all of these things in the amateurs. I always looked up to Dave. It meant a lot to me to tell Dave each time that I won. I look at him more as a big brother than anything else; I love that guy. It’s why it’s tough seeing him like this today.”

Chuck Mussachio wanted to be David Reid and live out his Olympic aspirations where Reid worked, at Al Mitchell’s United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) on the University of Northern Michigan campus in Marquette.

And though Mussachio did not realize his Olympic dreams, he pursued a professional boxing career despite earning a degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in guidance counseling.

The South Jersey-based light heavyweight with Philadelphia roots still cherishes the time he got to meet and work with one of his boxing idols. At first, however, Reid, who had only fought competitively for a couple of years, was standoffish, leery of any new face that came around.

“Dave was very paranoid that everyone was after him and trying to steal from him,” said Mussachio, who worked out at USOEC from January 2003 until August 2004. “It took a few months for Dave to trust me. There was one time, I remember, when Dave misplaced his jacket and he had everything in his jacket pocket, including his wallet. A week went by and Dave still couldn’t find his jacket. He had left it at the front desk of the building where we lived, but he was really agitated and wanted to go after someone.

“He would just slip like that. It was tough to watch Dave deteriorate. It wasn’t like a rapid jump off the edge. He would tell me things that happened way back in his amateur days with vivid memory of specific bouts, but he would forget things on a day-to-day basis.

“I could see he lacked some organizational skills. I tried to help him as a friend because he’d get easily agitated and lose things. Sometimes he lost track of time. A lot of people said David was like that before he began boxing. I didn’t know him then, but I started to see some things that weren’t right. Dave would choke every time we sat down and ate, and things got progressively worse in the time I was there.”

It came to a crucial state in mid-summer 2005.

Reid doesn’t recall much of that day. All Mitchell could recall was that Reid locked in himself in his car during a record heat wave in Marquette one afternoon. The windows were closed and Reid wasn’t responding to anyone. Finally, someone called an ambulance in fear he would die of heat stroke.

“That’s what happened to me; I was reading in a car and then I woke up in the hospital, but that was a while ago,” Reid said. “If that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s when they found out I had depression. Treating the depression thing wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t find me in the car. I blacked out. I don’t really remember what happened.”

Mitchell was traveling when it happened, but remembers something far graver than Reid recalled.

“Dave almost died,” Mitchell said. “I was away. David stayed because he doesn’t like traveling anymore. But I got this call from Jeff Kleinschmidt [retired USOEC director] while I was gone. He told me they found Dave in the parking lot of his apartment complex and this woman called the police. It was one of the hottest days ever in Marquette, and Dave was just sitting there in his car with the windows rolled up, they told me. It was over 100-degrees, so it had to be at least 130-degrees in the car. Dave told me, or someone told me, they had to apply electric shock to bring him back.”

Mussachio couldn’t believe what he heard. He hustled back to Marquette and visited his friend, who was sitting there in a hospital gown on his bed still trying to absorb what was happening to him.

“I’m on his side and I love him,” Mussachio said. “I hope nothing but the best for Dave. But there were a lot of people reaching at him, and it is why he is this way today. It makes you a little sad because you won’t find a better guy.”

“I visited Dave in the hospital a few days after he was admitted,” Mussachio recalled. “Dave was in his room and the nurse brought me in to see him. Dave was just sitting there and I asked him if he knew who I was, and Dave said ‘No’ with this blank stare. Then he started laughing, he was joking. Dave explained to me he was sitting in his car with his books, and the next thing he knew he was in the hospital.

“The doctor came in when I was with him and told us Dave was going to get worse. It will be gradual, but it’s what’s been happening. It is sad. This is someone I looked up to coming up as a fighter in Philly. He still has his Olympic gold medal and his championship belt. But I remember him telling me winning that gold medal was a blessing and a curse at the same time.”

Mitchell, Hart and Mussachio all claim Reid was bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by those who were supposedly close to the fighter.

“There were a lot of people that took advantage of Dave, and it kind of bothers me,” Hart said. “It’s a big reason why Dave trusts no one today.”

“I’m on his side and I love him,” Mussachio said. “I hope nothing but the best for Dave. But there were a lot of people reaching at him, and it is why he is this way today. It makes you a little sad because you won’t find a better guy.”

Now Reid fights a new battle.

The demons gnaw at him. It’s reflected in his personality and in his words. When Hart was living with him he could tell when Reid would have a good or bad day. Reid would engage him in conversation on good days. On the bad days Reid would lock himself in his bedroom and say nothing.

“I was depressed for a while there; I have really bad depression in my family and it’s a struggle every day,” Reid admitted during a more lucid discourse. “I inherited it from my family. Being depressed isn’t that bad right now because I take medication for it. I don’t know how bad it got. I just got into a depression and I lost track of things.”

Reid is only 41. He’ll turn 42 on September 17. His professional career only lasted four years. He fought a mere 19 times, going 17-2 with seven knockouts. Mitchell resisted Reid fighting again after his punishing loss to Felix Trinidad in March 2000, when he lost the WBA 154-pound title he had won from Laurent Boudouani in only his 12th pro fight.

“Dave had a pretty remarkable career,” said Mitchell. “What makes it more remarkable is he fought essentially with one eye. His left eye was far worse than anyone knew, and it’s why we wanted to move Dave fast. I walked away. I wanted Dave to get out of [boxing] after he got beat by Trinidad. I didn’t want the Trinidad fight. I wanted Dave to take some easy fights.

“We were lucky. The eye came down after a year or two (after turning pro). But it came down after one or two rounds in the Trinidad fight. We didn’t talk for a little while there, but Dave has found his way back. He called me up and told me he wasn’t doing anything at home and he’s been up here [in Marquette] since 2004.”

If there’s been an omnipresent light in Reid’s life it’s been Mitchell. An old-school coach who possesses old-world values, Mitchell may be the one singular reason Reid is alive today. The trainer manages Reid’s expenses, keeps the parasites away and covets and protects Reid’s most prized possession, his Olympic gold medal, which sits securely in a safe.

“I worry about him when I’m not home; I’m like his only support now with everything, but my goal is for Dave to go back home and rejoin his family, to get better and be around some people we trust. We’re working on that,” said Mitchell, who essentially raised Reid and trained him since he was eight.

The mood swings that Reid says is hereditary may have been worsened by his boxing career.

“David Reid means too much to so many people, because he’s helped so many," Hart said. "Now maybe it’s time people start thinking about Dave.”

“With boxing, you see repeated concussive blows that can increase the risk of depression,” said Dr. Matthew Sacks, a licensed clinical psychologist at Joint Base Andrews Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic based in Camp Spring, Maryland. “There is no black-and-white answer as to whether or not depression is hereditary. You can have an identical twin, separated at birth and raised in completely different environments, in those types of studies, you see some differences. Your life experiences make up those differences. But research suggests you have an increased risk of chronic depression and encephalopathy, all the stuff that we see in the NFL, NHL, what everyone is talking about, when you expose yourself to repeated brain trauma.

“That can have a long-term effect. Look at the list of all the professional athletes that go through this and kill themselves. It’s probably a little bit of both, heredity and boxing.”

There is hope for Reid. To his credit, he doesn’t shoulder should’ves, could’ves and only-ifs.

“I feel better today from the condition I was in five, six years ago,” Reid said. “I’m a whole lot better. I realize I’m going to have to take medication every day for the rest of my life. Al is still a very important part of my life. But I don’t talk to anyone else.”

He has also cut himself off from boxing.

“I do remember winning the gold medal,” Reid said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I still would have fought and I think I would have done everything the same.”

In the meantime, Hart will still continue pestering him about being in his corner, and Mitchell will continue worrying about him, and Mussachio will continue to keep Reid in his prayers and his thoughts.

“I won’t stop until I see Dave in my corner,” said Hart. “That’s my goal for him. David Reid means too much to so many people, because he’s helped so many. Now maybe it’s time people start thinking about Dave.”

This story first appeared on It is reprinted with permission.

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