Reporting Dana Kozlov
Don't Miss This
CHICAGO (CBS) – His hopes were nearly crushed, but one 18-year-old Chicago man didn’t let his wrongful arrest for murder ruin his life.
Instead, he used it to fuel his determination to become an Olympian.
CBS 2′s Dana Kozlov has his remarkable story.
Semajay Thomas is chasing his dream, after living a nightmare.
“I just stayed focused and kept training, because I knew one day it would come to a pass and I’ll be out,” Thomas said of his time behind bars, charged with a murder he did not commit.
Thomas began training with Arturo Salas at Chicago’s Eckhart Park when he was just 10 years old.
But boxing came to a halt in July 2009, after gang members accused the Thomas – then only 15 years old – of killing a 49-year-old man down the street from his house.
“My heart fell when he was charged,” Salas said.
Thomas spent 15 months locked inside Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, but the blow didn’t knock him out.
“I kept training. I kept running around the facility, kept hitting my bag, kept doing my sit-ups, shadow boxing,” Thomas said.
That drive and determination paid off. Last year, he was acquitted in 40 minutes and, just months later, won a U.S.A. Boxing National Championship.
Now, Thomas is three months away from fighting for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
“When I was incarcerated, I always told the people at the JTDC that I was gonna get out and I was gonna make the Olympic team,” he said. “I was gonna be a national champion.”
“Without a doubt, if he stays in the training and works the right way, like a couple of kids I had that went to the Olympics, he’s one of them … that has the potential to go to the Olympics,” Salas said.
No matter what happens, Thomas said he’ll continue to visit the detention center to talk to kids there and, maybe, inspire them to take a jab at their dreams.
“I dont’ want to be … just a somebody on the street, I want to be a person that everybody, the younger kids, look up to and they could relate. You know, they could look at him like, ‘Wow, dreams do come true,’” Thomas said.
Shortly after Thomas was acquitted, two other men were arrested for and convicted of the 49-year-old’s murder.
Thomas’ Olympic trial match will be in Denver this winter.
Meantime, he’s fighting Friday night in Chicago in one of just a few matches leading up to that.