News & Politics

A 19-Year-Old Boxer from Prince George’s County Is Trying to Qualify for the Summer Olympics

Gary Antuanne Russell, a 19-year-old living in Capitol Heights, graduated top in his class at Croom High School in Prince George’s County last year. In his valedictorian speech, he urged his classmates to have mentors.

“He was giving them a guideline for the future,” his mother, Lawan, says.

Antuanne himself has a lot of mentors. Three of them are brothers also named Gary, also champion boxers. Which is maybe why Antuanne passed up a scholarship to the University of Maryland to train for the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which he’s a top-two finish in a May tournament away from qualifying for.

Antuanne doesn’t even want to talk about having his high school’s highest grade-point average. “I don’t like being out front, flamboyant with certain things,” he says. “I don’t want to belittle people.” For now, he put his schoolbooks aside. He and three of his older brothers–Gary Allen Russell Jr., Gary Allen Russell III, and Gary Antonio Russell–train together twice a day at their family gym, called Enigma. They’re often up sparring well past midnight.

When Antuanne—who goes by his middle name to avoid confusion in a house full of men named Gary—won the national Golden Gloves welterweight championship in 2014, he helped make family history. Four of the Russell brothers now have Golden Gloves titles, more than any sibling group ever in boxing. None of them, however, have competed in the Olympics. Antuanne’s eldest brother, Gary Jr., qualified for Beijing in 2008, but narrowly missed his weight requirement before his fight and was disqualified.

Antuanne says he’s motivated by his family’s success and hopes to add to their trophy case. “I’m not the best one,” he says, “but I have the opportunity to be the best because I’ve seen everything unfold in front of me.”

Before Lawan and her husband, Gary Russell Sr., started having kids, they made a pact that Gary Sr. could pick names for the boys if Lawan could do the same with girls. They had six sons and Gary Sr. named them all after himself.

According to a Washington Post profile a decade ago, Gary Sr. was also an aspiring, self-trained boxer before getting shot in the leg during a hunting accident. Afterward, he devoted himself to coaching. Before Lawan, Gary Sr. had five kids, including three sons he used to train. One of them, Devaun Drayton, a successful fighter, was shot and killed in Northeast DC in 2004. Since then, Gary Sr.’s sought to keep his kids off the streets, in the classroom, and hitting the gym.

Which may explain why Antuanne is so precocious. Lawan says he “has the mind of an older person.”

“My father told me ‘GMB’—grown man business,” Antuanne says. He’s confident he’ll qualify for Rio: “At this point, I have nothing to lose. Everything else goes out the window as far as doubt and questioning. I can’t go to war with myself and go to the war being in the ring with someone else.”

Jackson Knapp
Assistant Editor