Local boxers have shot at Olympics
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
“It feels like a miracle.”
Those are the words Northside boxer Delbert “Sonny” Taylor used to describe how he feels having a shot at competing in the 2024 Summer Olympics set to take place in Paris.
Taylor, who grew up on the Northside, is one of two boxers training under James Hoy, president of the Team 412 Boxing Program, who will compete in the United States Olympic Boxing Trials in Lafayette, Louisiana, in December. If Taylor and fellow boxer Trinity Burke can win four fights over the seven day period of the trials, they’ll qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Hoy, who typically just goes by the nickname “coach,” said he feels both confident and nervous at the prospect of seeing his boxers compete in the trials. He knows both Burke and Taylor are great boxers, each of them being twotime national champions.
Still, the trials are going to be anything but a walk in the park.
“There are no bad boxers there,” he said. “There are no easy wins.”
The trials will feature the best of the best in terms of amateur boxers in the United States. Taylor won the national championship title in his weight class in 2022 and 2023, with Burke doing the same in those same years.
The pair of them train at Third Avenue Boxing Gym, located in downtown Pittsburgh. Hoy said the pair train seven days a week twice a day, one session starting at 7 a.m. and the other at 4 p.m.
“The 7 a.m. session is mostly strength and conditioning,” Hoy said. “And the afternoon session is 4-6 p.m. and that’s usually technical pad work and sparring.”
Hoy said the pair’s accomplishments “shine a light on just how good Pittsburgh boxing is at the amateur level.” He said coaches from many other local gyms have helped out in getting the two ready, living up to the saying “it takes a village.”
“It is remarkable that we have two kids from one small gym in Pittsburgh who qualified,” he said. “That’s unheard of.”
Taylor told The Chronicle that he got into boxing as an emotional outlet while he was going through a rough patch in his life.
“The gym just helped me channel the frustration and angst I was feeling from the situation,” he said. “It just helped me channel a lot of that energy into something positive.”
He said the thing he most enjoys about boxing are all the different goals he has to work towards. Each day he faces a different milestone he must work to surpass, and he compared the sensation to “runner’s high,” a euphoric feeling long distance runners report experiencing during challenging runs.
“It’s the small wins that make the big wins mean so much,” he said.
Despite being at the top of his game, Taylor anticipates his try at the Olympics to be his “last stretch” at boxing. He plans to take on a career in the military and, in fact, is already a member of the United States Air Force World Class Athlete Program, who is supporting him in his Olympic endeavors.
However, whether he makes it into the Olympics or not, Taylor already feels lucky to achieve what he has done.
“It already feels like I won the lottery just with how the chain of events has played out,” he said. “That would just be my cherry on top.”
Burke, meanwhile, grew up in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, but encountered Hoy previously and turned to him when she moved to Pittsburgh. She’s been with Third Avenue Boxing Gym for three years now.
Echoing Taylor, Burke said she feels “a little nervous, but more so excited” heading into the trials.
She began boxing at the age of 15, and was inspired to get into the sport by watching it on her television at home, describing the boxing matches she saw as “pretty cool.”
While boxing may seem like an individual sport, Burke finds it’s the support of others that drives her to reach new heights.
“What keeps me going really are my teammates, because I have a very good team,” she said.
Burke hopes to go “as far as (she) can” in boxing, though isn’t exactly sure of her next steps whether she gets into the Olympics or not.
Nevertheless, she has high hopes for qualifying for the Olympics.
“It would be exhilarating,” she said. The United States Olympic Boxing Trials will take place from Dec. 2 through Dec. 9. Anyone interested in watching the event can do so via the website usaboxing.org.