Back from the Brink: Chris Byrd’s Fight for Life

ATLANTIC CITY, UNITED STATES: Chris Byrd (R) celebrates his IBF Heavyweight Championship win over Evander Holyfield with boxing promoter Don King (L) 14 December, 2002 in Atlantic Metropolis, NJ. Byrd received the 12-round bout by unanimous choice. AFP PHOTO/HENNY RAY ABRAMS (Picture credit score ought to learn HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP through Getty Photographs)

This story appeared within the August 2021 concern of The Ring.

WHETHER CHRIS BYRD’S RETURN TO BOXING HAPPENS OR NOT, THE FACT THAT IT’S EVEN POSSIBLE IS PROOF THAT HE ALREADY WON THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE

The park hummed solely with the doleful cry of a determined man swaying gently on a swing. That’s the place Laurie Byrd discovered her child brother, Chris, the two-time heavyweight titlist, just a few blocks from his home one April evening in 2017. Chris’ face was a ghoulish masks, his bloodshot eyes larger than espresso saucers within the twilight.

Laurie stood on the park’s edge for a second questioning what monster had possessed her brother, as soon as a lovable, hyper child with a beaming smile who would observe her to basketball follow. Chris was questioning, too. His thoughts was twisted and he didn’t know what to do subsequent. Drown himself within the Pacific Ocean? Cling himself from a balcony for the neighborhood to see? Stuff his mouth with capsules and by no means get up?

“The ache began and that modified the whole lot.”
– Tracy Byrd

Throughout a 16-year, 47-fight professional profession, the undersized Chris Byrd confronted a few of the most formidable heavyweights of his period, together with David Tua, Evander Holyfield, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko and Ike Ibeabuchi, gorging himself and trashing his physique to barely recover from 210 kilos.

However for near a decade after his last struggle, Byrd was confronted with a battle extra daunting than any introduced by these massive punchers. His conflict got here in opposition to the horrors of tension, melancholy and despair – fixed agony that shoved him to the brink of suicide.

If not for Laurie interceding that spring evening in 2017 and a handful of others who got here to Byrd’s rescue, this might be a much more somber story.

Byrd, a middleweight silver medalist on the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, defied logic as a heavyweight within the professional ranks, the place he would normally battle opponents who have been bigger than he was – typically by a large margin.

 

Now Byrd, who will flip 51 on August 15, is considering returning to the ring for the primary time in 12 years. He says it’s to make up for what he missed throughout his prime, an actual likelihood to indicate what he can do at his extra pure weight of 160. He says he’s a modified man from the strolling Halloween costume he wore for a few years, enduring the relentless throbbing in his toes, again, hips, shoulders and knees.

He virtually misplaced his household over it. He virtually misplaced who he’s. He virtually misplaced his life.

To outsiders, Chris and his spouse, Tracy, lived an idyllic life. They have been the right boxing couple, as near a contemporary model of the Beaver Cleaver TV household as there will be in boxing. Their three kids – Jordan, Justin and Sydney – fairly actually grew up earlier than the boxing neighborhood’s eyes. They appeared well-adjusted; they have been a pleasure to be round. Hardly anybody uttered a sordid phrase or had a unfavourable perspective when it got here to Chris Byrd.

It’s why Byrd’s post-boxing profession, at the least the primary incarnation of it, appears so troublesome to fathom.

“Everyone in boxing cherished Chris Byrd. And you’d meet Chris and Tracy, and who couldn’t love them?” mentioned Steve Cunningham, the two-time IBF cruiserweight titlist. “They named our daughter, Kennedy. We’re that near the Byrds. Chris is the best man to get together with, a nonhostile man, besides while you’re within the ring with him.

“Chris at all times had it collectively. My spouse and I at all times checked out Chris and Tracy as our massive brother and sister. I really like Chris Byrd. When individuals ask me who my favourite all-time boxer is, I don’t say Muhammad Ali; I don’t say Sugar Ray Leonard. I say Chris Byrd, as a result of I used to be in 4 or 5 coaching camps with him. I knew the chances have been in opposition to him on the enterprise aspect and the dimensions aspect. I perceive what he was up in opposition to – and he nonetheless went on to turn out to be a two-time heavyweight champion.”

Byrd gave away virtually 30 kilos in his TKO loss to Wladimir Klitschko in April 2006. (Picture by Torsten Silz//DDP/AFP through Getty Photographs)

Chris Byrd’s ache first began in 2009 in his left pinky toe. It was only a mild tingling sensation. At first, Byrd (41-5-1, 22 knockouts) ignored it, however because it continued to worsen and began to unfold, his personable disposition grew darkish. Byrd’s final struggle was a victory, a four-round knockout over the terribly overmatched Matthias Sandow in Germany on March 21, 2009.

After that, the gifted southpaw turned a coach, following the identical path as his mother and father, Joe and Rose Byrd, who skilled their eight kids of their fabled “dungeon” within the basement of the Byrd residence in Flint, Michigan, the incubator of Chris’ awkward, slick model.

By 2010, the ache had unfold. Chris couldn’t sleep for greater than two or three hours at a time. Docs tried to search out solutions. Chris was recognized with peripheral neuropathy, a generally excruciating situation brought on by nerve injury.

Chris was prescribed quite a few anti-inflammatory medicines. However the capsules had terrible uncomfortable side effects, which got here to a head in June 2010 when Chris went to see a basketball recreation during which his sister Laurie was teaching in Los Angeles. Chris went to the sport with Tracy, his son Justin and his nephew. After the sport, because the household was strolling to their automotive within the parking zone, Tracy talked about Justin had mentioned one thing disrespectful to her. The boys have been youngsters on the time.

“Once we bought within the automotive, I misplaced it on my son and nephew,” Chris recalled. “I bear in mind screaming at them and eager to struggle them. I used to be going loopy. I went right into a rage. I bought out of the automotive and challenged my son and my nephew to struggle. Somebody noticed this and referred to as the cops. Tracy was attempting to inform me to cease. My son and nephew wouldn’t get out of the automotive, they have been so scared. I used to be circling the automotive yelling and going loopy.

“I used to be capable of calm myself down after I realized I used to be appearing nuts. I bought again within the automotive. Every thing calmed down, however everybody was taking a look at me like I used to be loopy. We began driving out of the parking zone and instantly cop automobiles have been driving in the direction of me and behind me, blocking me in.”

There have been six police cruisers. Chris stopped the automotive. The police jumped out, weapons drawn, and instructed the household to get out of the automotive and hit the bottom. Chris and his household complied. After being handcuffed and interrogated, the police allowed Chris’ household to go with none prices.

This, nevertheless, satisfied Tracy that one thing was unsuitable with Chris. His physician instantly took him off the remedy.

“I used to sit down in my storage all day and never discuss to anybody. I bear in mind telling Tracy that I needed to finish all of it. For me, life was over.”
– Chris Byrd

“I began having points in my hips and each shoulders, and the neuropathy unfold all the best way up my leg,” Chris recalled. “I couldn’t take the ache any longer. I used to be not sleeping at evening. I used to be beginning to really feel just a little higher with the medicine, however then I began to have outbursts. I might lose my mood.

“I lastly instructed Tracy about all the ideas I used to be having. I might have goals of killing myself, Tracy, my whole household of their sleep. One evening, I had a dream of hanging myself from my balcony, bare, so the entire neighborhood may see me. I used to be so conscious these ideas weren’t regular. I used to be so scared of those ideas. They have been so actual and so vivid, however I used to be too scared to inform anybody, as a result of I believed everybody would assume I used to be loopy.”

By August 2010, his household did.

“Chris turned somebody completely different, somebody I didn’t know,” recalled Tracy, crying. “I nonetheless love him. That can by no means change. He’s at all times going to be the love of my life. His ache began small and steadily bought worse, and worse, and worse. I spent years taking Chris to docs, begging anybody for assist. It reached a degree the place it turned an excessive amount of for him. It was hell. Chris sucked it up. We have been nonetheless a household. We did issues collectively. Everybody knew Chris was in ache, and through that point it pained me seeing Chris that means. We had a fantastic marriage that everybody noticed. My children had the very best dad, and I had the very best husband.

“The ache began and that modified the whole lot.”

Chris spent the summer time of 2010 in his bed room. He was severely depressed and didn’t see the purpose of residing anymore. Justin was so nervous about him that he spent the summer time together with his father, watching TV. The one time Justin left his aspect was when Tracy got here to mattress, or to get his father meals.

On account of his ordeal, Byrd (with spouse Tracy and son Justin) would see household bonds stretched to the breaking level. (Picture by Jens-Ulrich Koch/DDP/AFP through Getty Photographs)

The fad and ideas of suicide subsided for a time, although the ache continued to worsen. It reached one other crescendo in 2017. Tracy hid something that Chris may seize to probably hurt himself, like knives and drugs.

One weekday morning in April 2017, Chris bought up from one other dangerous evening.

“That morning I wakened from the ache and I couldn’t take it anymore; all I needed to do was take some capsules and fall asleep for good,” he remembered. “I used to sit down in my storage all day and never discuss to anybody. I bear in mind telling Tracy that I needed to finish all of it. For me, life was over. Nobody was capable of assist me. I couldn’t take remedy due to my psychological state. This was the eighth or ninth time I went by way of this. My household was used to it.

“However this outburst was worse than the others. I used to be in ache in all places. If you’re in actual ache, you don’t assume proper. It’s when it bought tremendous severe. I might say that it was the closest I ever got here to doing one thing. I needed to stroll into the ocean, and after I thought I might float again to the shore, I didn’t need my household to see me that means. I bear in mind sitting on the ledge in my yard, and I needed to depart the home.

He could have been small, however Byrd may at all times grasp with the heavyweights. (Picture by Johnny Louis/FilmMagic)

“My household tried to seize me and I threw them off me. I might go loopy. It will be like blacking out. I had been going to docs day by day, and I had sufficient. Once I lastly broke, I broke. It led to that.”

Chris walked by way of the entrance gate with tears streaming down his face. Drunk on emotion, his ungainly stroll led him to a neighborhood park just a few blocks away. Laurie adopted from a distance. When Chris sat on the swing, Laurie approached him to see if he was OK. Chris sneered at her, warning her away.

Chris stored repeating, “I wish to kill myself; I wish to lower off my foot; I don’t wish to stay anymore.”

“The ache was so insufferable, and I stored telling him that I couldn’t perceive what he was going by way of; it was like Chris was possessed,” recalled Laurie. “I checked out Chris and it was like I didn’t know this individual.

“I used to be fearful of him as a result of I didn’t know what he was going to do, however I used to be there to guard him, too. To see him undergo that broke my coronary heart. I talked to him and I instructed him, ‘Momma wouldn’t wish to see you want this.’ That calmed him down. (Rose handed away in June 2015.)

“It was like an angel got here down and landed on his shoulder. He calmed down. He mentioned, ‘You’re proper. She wouldn’t.’”

The pair began laughing and the whole lot went silent. They eased again up, brother and sister, and walked to the home. It appeared like a lifetime to get there, with Chris repeatedly saying, “I’m good, I’m good.”

“That’s the closest I got here to truly doing one thing excessive. Then 1,000,000 ideas undergo your head that you could’t do it,” Chris mentioned. “It hit me that these dedicated to suicide are dedicated to doing it. I considered how many individuals I might damage. I used to be by no means dedicated to doing it. I didn’t wish to trigger my household any ache. That’s what saved me. I second-guessed myself the entire time.”

4 months later, an opportunity assembly modified the whole lot.

***

What Chris Byrd skilled could be very very similar to what many retired NFL veterans undergo, residing with omnipresent ache. He was coping with 11 years of no sleep whereas in fixed agony. He was rising psychotic.

At present, Byrd says he’s in , lucid mind-set.

That journey to restoration started in August 2017 whereas amongst a gaggle of individuals discussing the medicinal advantages of cannabidiol (CBD), one of many many chemical compounds present in marijuana. However not like THC, marijuana’s most important psychoactive part, CBD has no intoxicating impact.

That is the place Chris met Tammie Thomas, a hashish marketing consultant. She didn’t know something about Byrd however felt on the spot compassion when Chris shuffled up because the final speaker of the assembly. His toes didn’t unfold greater than 12 inches aside as he walked to the entrance of the group.

Inside seconds, Chris was sobbing.

“I couldn’t imagine that that they had Chris talking,” Thomas remembered. “He was introduced as a former two-time heavyweight champion. This man? A former two-time heavyweight champion? My coronary heart damage for him.

“Afterward, I knew Chris was going to be bombarded with individuals, so I handed alongside my quantity to him. Chris instructed me he suffered from neuropathy, which destroys your nerves. It’s very arduous to fight and arduous to deal with. I instructed Chris I knew I may assist him, and Chris was shocked, as a result of for 11 years he had gone to each physician he may to cope with the ache.”

Byrd waited per week to name Thomas and requested her for a house session. His whole household, who had grown pissed off with Chris’ conduct, can be readily available to take heed to Thomas discuss in regards to the therapeutic advantages of hashish.

Thomas observed one thing in regards to the Byrd household as she spoke to them. In her opinion, they have been carried out with him.

“Chris couldn’t end a sentence with out his household answering for him,” she mentioned. “I requested Chris what he was going by way of, and his household simply lower him off. They handled him like a washed-up fighter that they put within the nook. I bear in mind being with Chris alone in his kitchen as he was making his smoothie, and he checked out me and mentioned he needed to begin boxing once more.

“He had this look that it doesn’t matter what anybody thought, he was going to struggle. I bear in mind leaving the home that day considering he had no assist and nobody believed in him. I considered it once more that evening and [how] if he had one individual to imagine in him, he was going to have the ability to do it. Chris was prepared to take a look at. Chris did put his household by way of some hell, too, however there have been individuals who did surrender on Chris.”

From Tracy’s perspective, she was defending Chris from himself.

“I didn’t and don’t wish to see Chris struggle once more, and I might do something to today to guard him,” Tracy mentioned. “I nonetheless care about Chris. I might think about myself blessed to like once more the best way I cherished Chris. Nobody ever checked out on Chris. It was torture for me and torture for the youngsters. I completed Chris’ sentences – however I did that the entire time Chris and I have been collectively. I fought for him for 12 years, and I checked out when he began getting concerned with these new individuals in his life and Chris needed to struggle once more.

“Fighters undergo life considering it’s solely us who undergo ache. It may create psychological sickness.”
– Lamon Brewster

“Chris’ household nonetheless helps and loves him. Nobody desires to see Chris get damage. I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed. This wasn’t Chris Byrd, the underdog man boxing cherished. I checked out when it reached a degree of no return. He was set in his thoughts that he was going to struggle once more. He’s utterly completely different. However it can kill me to ever see Chris get damage. I might die for him.”

Thomas instructed the Byrds that should you took the entire hashish plant from the bottom and used it uncooked, it’s confirmed to have sturdy medicinal functions – although solely in excessive doses.

“If individuals assume they’ll smoke a joint and it’s going to remedy all of their illnesses, it’s the farthest factor from the reality. It’s a ache capsule; it’s momentary; it’s a band-aid,” Thomas mentioned. “When the excessive wears off, you’re again in ache once more. The primary two, three months with Chris, he was on 1,500 to three,000 milligrams a day, consuming it and doing suppositories.

“These have been our two main strategies of supply. If you do it by way of the rectum, you don’t get excessive, as a result of it bypasses the liver. If you inhale, ingest or smoke hashish with THC, it processes by way of the liver, which converts it right into a psychoactive compound. By doing suppositories, that’s averted.”

Three years after they met, Byrd has been comparatively pain-free.

If not for the smile, many boxing followers most likely wouldn’t acknowledge the slimmed-down Byrd of at the moment. (Picture by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Photographs)

“As soon as Chris’ physique was healed, he’s most likely doing about 100 milligrams a day as upkeep to manage irritation, not as a result of he wants something healed,” Thomas mentioned.

One other cathartic second occurred in 2018, whereas on a talking engagement in Yuma, Arizona, with Chris’ cousin, former WBO heavyweight titlist Lamon Brewster. Now 47 and mentoring at-risk kids in Indianapolis, Indiana, Brewster was with Byrd throughout a therapeutic massage remedy session.

The masseuse struck a nerve in Byrd’s left ankle and he exploded in agony. Brewster may really feel the emotion from throughout the room.

“And it was good, as a result of we’re fighters and we make a residing hiding our ache,” Brewster mentioned. “We’re programmed to do this. Fighters undergo life considering it’s solely us who undergo ache. It may create psychological sickness. Chris sat up and slammed his first down on the mat. He mentioned, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t cope with this for the remainder of my life.’

“The one factor about being a champion is we’re usually by ourselves rather a lot. If you’re alone like that and also you’re in ache, there isn’t any one you may categorical that to and clarify what you’re feeling. I by no means noticed Chris like that earlier than. It caught me completely off guard; I didn’t attempt to calm him down. What he was going by way of I might put nobody on earth by way of.

“I stored encouraging him to speak extra. I needed him to get all of it out. If the river is overflowing, you don’t attempt to cease it. I stored telling him, ‘Let it out! Let it out, cousin!’ Chris needed to get it out. That was his crossroad. His thoughts snapped again. I understood his ache, as a result of my ache drove me half-crazy. Individuals don’t know what ache can do to you mentally, not simply bodily.”

Laurie was as soon as fearful that she may get that decision within the early hours of the morning about Chris, afraid one among his outbursts can be in public and he would wind up in jail. Her issues have since been allayed.

Byrd hopes that his street to restoration could lead again to the ring, though whether or not any state athletic fee would enable it, given what he’s been by way of, is a good query and a narrative for one more day.

He has aspirations to field exhibitions with Mike Tyson’s Legends Solely League.

Redemption, although, didn’t come with out potholes. There was collateral injury. Byrd is on incapacity, a lot of his boxing earnings dissipated by his medical care.

And there’s extra.

“Tracy and I are separated on our strategy to divorce,” mentioned Chris, who was set to launch his personal hashish firm referred to as Wholesome Byrd. “Tracy and I’ve a relationship. Me and my kids are cool. They’re grown now. I understand the hell that I put them by way of. I may step outdoors myself and see what I used to be going by way of, however I’ll say this: They didn’t know what I used to be going by way of.

“I used to be in a lot ache. I requested the physician to chop my left foot off. I misplaced a lot time due to all the ache I used to be in. I promised myself as soon as I bought by way of the ache, I might come again to boxing [as a] middleweight. I proved everybody unsuitable the primary time after I turned heavyweight champion. I’ll shock the world once more. I can take a look at myself within the mirror and I can say, ‘I made it. I made it.’”

 

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Journal/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Affiliation of America. 

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