Originally created 03/03/02

Vernon Forrest's dreams have come true



Life has been a whirlwind for Vernon Forrest in the month since he became a king of the boxing world.

He worked the Super Bowl. He graced the Grammys. He was featured on Fox's Best Damn Sports Show, Period.

Friday night he hung out with fellow boxer Roy Jones Jr. at Magic Johnson's restaurant in Los Angeles. Saturday morning he was in Augusta being feted by his hometown, giving his time to a community that hasn't really given him enough during the past 10 years.

"It's a great feeling," said the undisputed welterweight champion of the world.

In front of friends, fans and family, Forrest testified to the resolve that led him to the pinnacle of his sport.

"I'm standing here as a champion because I just never gave up," Forrest told the 50 or so folks gathered to greet him at May Park Community Center. "If you believe in yourself and work hard enough, nobody can stop you."

Nobody has stopped Forrest as a professional. Not once in 34 fights. Though nobody has beaten him, the former Olympian has toiled in the recesses of boxing's aristocracy for 10 years before finally breaking through to the big-time in the last year.

He can't be ignored any more. A victory over Raul Frank in May gave him a taste of championship glory. His dominating victory over previously unbeaten and "pound-for-pound" boxer of renown "Sugar" Shane Mosley in January gave Forrest star status.

It was the ultimate realization of his indomitable will to "dream to the extreme."

Forrest is a deeply spiritual man. "I pray a lot," he said to a chorus of "Amens!"

On the eve of his career-defining title fight with Mosley, Forrest got on his knees in his New York hotel and prayed.

"God, I need this fight. I've got to have this fight. I've got to win this fight," he said. "Give me a sign."

In his sleep, Forrest got his sign. He dreamed the whole fight. He dreamed of knocking Mosley down for the first time in his career. He dreamed of his arm raised in triumph. He dreamed the extreme.

"He makes dreams come true," Forrest said. "I'm living testament."

Forrest doesn't just talk the talk. The morning after becoming the welterweight champion of the world, Forrest was back home in Atlanta at church. A day later he was up early attending to his other calling - his Destiny's Child home-care facility for the mentally challenged.

"I thank God for blessing me," he said.

Saturday was Augusta's chance to thank Forrest for blessing us with his achievements. He is the kind of role model boxing needs. The kind of role model Augusta needs.

Catherine Luckey, Forrest's English teacher and occasional tutor at Richmond Academy, will attest to that. She spoke about how Forrest needed to pass an exam to get into a program at Marquette that would help him realize his Olympic dreams.

"I've never seen somebody work so hard in such a short time to get what he needed," Luckie said. "That's the kind of example Vernon sets."

Forrest has felt somewhat detached from his hometown through the years - scars too tough to be glossed over on a rainy Saturday set aside for celebration. Forrest calls Atlanta home nowadays, but his roots still reach to the eastern rim of the state. Saturday's festivities further bridge the 140-mile gap between his former and current lives.

"It means more to me to be recognized by my family and my hometown than anyone or anywhere else," Forrest said Saturday. "I'm extremely appreciative of what the city has done for me. This is healing a lot of personal wounds."

Home brings a little peace at the end of the whirlwind.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.