T errr-ry! Terrr-ry! Terrr-ry!
The cheers swirled around the dark and drafty Joyce Center Fieldhouse late Sunday afternoon. They were the last drops of fuel for the fire that still flickered in Terrence Rogers’ tomato-red face behind a pair of 16 oz. Everlast mitts and the clunky headgear. The rest of his body was burnt out, reduced to little more than ashes by the time the third round of Sunday’s preliminary Bengal Bout fight was coming to a close. But after more than three decades of overcoming challenges, it would be tough to expect anything more.
Rogers, a 55-year-old private investor, became the oldest student to ever participate in Notre Dame’s famed Bengal Bouts this weekend. I was lucky enough to spend the past few weeks following Rogers around, meeting his friends and family and attempting to figure out what makes him tick. Along the way, I learned about the incredibly unlikely path that he took to end up in a boxing ring with a 22-year-old senior last weekend.
The first sparks of Rogers’ quest — as he likes to call it — struck the iron in the late 1970s when he transferred to Notre Dame from West Point. Between classes and the part time jobs he worked to pay his tuition, Rogers managed to find time to join the men’s boxing club. For three straight years he fought in the tournament, and for three straight years he lost in the championship bout. During his senior year, in 1979, Rogers broke his opponent’s jaw in the first round of the championship fight. But, Bruce “The Cando Kid” Belzer fought back and handed Rogers his third straight disappointing championship decision.
The defeat stuck in his craw through MBA school in Arizona and during his first attempt to become a writer shortly thereafter. He swore he would come back to give it one more shot. It was still there while Rogers was making millions in the booming technology industry of the 1990s and at the turn of the century when he decided to go get his law degree.
So, in 1999 Rogers applied to the Notre Dame law school with a career change in mind and of course the ever-present thought of finally capturing boxing glory. At the time Rogers, was already over the hill. A heavy course load and the taxing duty of hosting a weekly Wednesday keg party during his undergrad days meant Terry’s grades were a little too low for ND law school and he received his first rejection letter. It was the first of 11. For more than a decade Rogers peppered the admissions office of one graduate program or another at Notre Dame— even during the three years that he was actually getting his law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Finally, last spring Rogers received word that he had been accepted to Notre Dame’s LL.M. program, a one-year study of International Human Rights Law. His first thoughts: “Man, I gotta get myself in shape.”
Those of you who remember the ’60s like Rogers does probably realize what a battle that would be. For those of us closer to infancy than to 55, just getting out of bed at that age seems like a Herculean task. But if you haven’t figured it out by now, Rogers is not one to give up easily. He set about getting himself in shape by completing the same grueling workout routine that the 200-plus other boxers go through on a daily basis. Rogers struggled through the push-ups and suicide sprints, finishing dead last in everyone of them but finishing nonetheless.
Even still, Rogers had to answer to more doubters than supporters. The Bengal Bouts is a one of a kind program and experience. Every year they raise tens of thousands of dollars for missionary work in Bangladesh. The boxers literally change the lives of thousands of people they will never meet, while the training and camaraderie makes a pretty indelible mark on their own. It’s easy to see why those at the helm of this program are nervous about anything happening that might jeopardize its future. When a 55-year-old man showed up on campus claiming he was ready to win it all, they could see a lot of things potentially going wrong.
Rogers, as he has done since the ’70s, fought back relentlessly and after passing an extensive physical and a stress test was given a reluctant OK to fight. Still, no one but a close group of adamant supporters gave him a chance to survive. Rogers did survive. He didn’t win the fight. Senior veteran David Cary won a unanimous decision, but Rogers proved he belonged in the ring. And for a brief moment on Sunday afternoon, he was able to recapture that fire and inspiration that drove a man to do what no one else imagined to be possible. And for a few brief moments, the hundreds of fans who gathered to watch the spectacle got to feel that same relentless drive to do something positive.
Boxing wasn’t a mid-life crisis for Terry Rogers. No, that crisis for him started before Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, when he listened to a radio-crackled version of the legend’s title fight against Sonny Liston in 1964. It wasn’t a selfish freak show publicity stunt, although Rogers has raised over $5,000 for the Bangladesh missions by asking his wide network of friends and family for donations. It wasn’t an old has-been trying to relive his old glory days. It was simply something he dreamed of doing. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a dream come true.
To learn more about the Bengal Bouts or how to support the program please visit their website. I plan to turn my time with Terrence into a longer story and have it published somewhere, so please stay tuned for a more complete version of this remarkable tale.