Patient Stories

Rolling with the Punches: Jeremiah Williams’ Fight to Overcome Injury

Aug. 13, 2020

Jeremiah was a strict student in his early years but always had a knack for competition. It wasn't until age 32 that he even considered trying boxing.

Jeremiah Williams Boxing

Jeremiah Williams grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was the third of six children, and the only boy. Growing up, his parents emphasized education and provided a way for him and all five of his siblings to go to college.

With a strict focus on studies, his parents didn’t allow him to participate in any organized sports as a young child. But in his sophomore year of high school, the assistant football coach encouraged him to try out for the varsity football team. So he did, and made it. The following year, he began competing in track and field.

It didn’t take long for Jeremiah and others to see he was a natural athlete. He wound up receiving several full-ride scholarship offers for football and even an opportunity to compete in junior Olympics for track and field.

He accepted a full-ride scholarship to Wake Forest University for football where he majored in sociology, and ended up pursuing a career in the banking industry in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and, ultimately, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

It wasn’t until Jeremiah was 32 years old that boxing became of interest to him. “I got into boxing out of curiosity,” Jeremiah said. “I was told my grandfather, who I was named after, was a huge fan and loved the sport.”

In November 2004, only a few miles away from his apartment in Cincinnati, he found an amateur boxing gym. “The owner told me he wouldn’t normally accept someone my age, but since I was a college graduate and had a good career he would allow it,” Jeremiah said. “The owner thought I might be a good example for the kids.”

Within just two months of training, and at the untraditional age of 32, Jeremiah began his career competing as an amateur boxer in 2005.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Jeremiah laughed. “Most boxers start the sport as kids. A lot of them start, as they say, ‘out of the crib,’ especially when they have a parent or other family member in the sport.”

Typically, boxing is a sport that takes full-time dedication and years to develop the skills and techniques needed to be successful – especially in competition. Undeterred, Jeremiah was only able to dedicate time to training after working in the office all day.

In amateur competition, you can only box up to your 35th birthday. In 2007, Jeremiah’s amateur career came to an end, and he went pro in 2008.

“When that time came for me, my coach asked me to think about trying professional boxing,” Jeremiah recalled. His coach said to try one fight, and if he didn’t like it, he could stop.

Jeremiah’s coach, however, would not be able to work with him as a professional boxer, primarily because of his declining health, but he was able to connect Jeremiah with a matchmaker, who was able to schedule fights for Jeremiah within the professional arena.

“I didn’t know the insides of the professional boxing business, but over time I learned the fundamentals,” Jeremiah said. In professional boxing, athletes train for the sport as their full-time job, but Jeremiah was still working his corporate job and didn’t have a team behind him like most others to help with the transition.

Talented amateurs may have as many as 300  fights on record, so when they switch to the professional scene, they are ready to compete for titles with paydays, or they are labeled as prospects and matched up to continue to build their records. Jeremiah, however, was still restructuring his life to be able to successfully box in the professional arena. He had shifted from a corporate banking career to a job as a certified trainer at a boxing fitness club so that he could train more often.

In 2014, Jeremiah had to get various tests and physicals completed in order to be cleared to compete in upcoming matches, so he made an appointment with UC Health Primary Care. “I found that academic health systems are always up to date on the latest discoveries and technologies, and UC Health is ranked among the best in the nation,” Jeremiah explained.

From there, Jeremiah was ready to compete in the most dangerous division in boxing – the heavyweight division. “My career started out with zero wins and eight losses,” Jeremiah said. And his first major injury wasn’t too far off either.

On December 15, 2014, while Jeremiah was sparring he made a quick pivot backward to avoid a punch, and then he immediately pounced forward to throw a counter punch. The pressure was so great that it ruptured his Achilles tendon.

An Achilles tendon connects the tendon fibers from the calf muscle to the heel of the foot. When ruptured, you may hear a “pop” coming from the back of your leg causing severe, intense pain. These ruptures typically need immediate medical attention.

A couple days later, Jeremiah’s primary care physician, Veer Patel, DO, referred him to Michael Donaworth, MD, UC Health sports medicine specialist. During his appointment, Dr. Donaworth’s colleague and fellow orthopaedic and sports medicine physician, Brian Grawe, MD, also happened to be in clinic that day.

“Both met with me and assessed the situation,” Jeremiah recalled. Based on a collaborative conversation between Jeremiah and the physicians, they determined surgery with Dr. Grawe was needed as soon as possible.

Dr. Grawe explained that “Working in collaborative teams to help athletes meet their potential embodies the philosophical approach at UC Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. We work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

After a successful surgery, and with proper exercise, dedication to therapy and the right mentality, Jeremiah was able to get back to full strength after just six months.

Jeremiah went on to improve upon his 2-9 record, but, now, with the support of a promoter, manager and two coaches to train with him full-time.

In 2019, his career had taken off and his schedule was busier than ever, winning six matches all by knockout. But to no surprise to a boxer, injury was, yet again, right around the corner.

In January 2020, Jeremiah was preparing for a fight that wasn’t scheduled until February. While sparring, he struck his opponent’s shoulder as he defended himself and immediately knew something was off. “I felt like it was a routine punch, but after reviewing the film it looked like an odd angle and impact,” Jeremiah recollected.

Without hesitation, Jeremiah made an appointment with Dr. Grawe, who later informed him that there was a tear in his rotator cuff and the tear likely occurred on the recoil of the punch.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons within the shoulder that keeps your upper arm in the shoulder socket. When partially or completely torn, movements such as raising or rotating the arm become difficult, painful and cause weakness.

“The shoulder injury came at a time that I was having a lot of success as a full-time, all-in boxer with a great team,” said Jeremiah. But all of that had to come to a halt in order for Dr. Grawe to repair and reattach Jeremiah’s tendons to his bone.

As with his Achilles tendon rupture, Dr. Grawe told Jeremiah he could be back to full strength after four and a half months – again, only if Jeremiah put in the required work. “The rotator cuff therapy is intense and involved because the shoulder is the most complicated joint in the body,” said Jeremiah. But hard work is not a foreign concept to Jeremiah, so he knew patience and consistency is what would get him back in the ring sooner than later.

“I look at it this way: The surgeon’s job is to repair the injury. The physical therapist’s job is to guide me in the right direction with exercises and care. But it’s my job to do the work consistently to get back to form,” explained Jeremiah.

During Jeremiah’s recovery, COVID-19 was quickly making its way through the United States, postponing businesses, sports and all other contact activities. Jeremiah said that the main thing that has been hindering his training routine was not his injury, but the boxing ring being closed due to the pandemic.

“There’s good and bad in everything,” said Jeremiah. “The injury prevented me from competing back in February. But, with this temporary hiatus due to COVID-19, I’ve been able to study my craft, sharpen techniques and acquire new skills,” he continued.

“Four and half months post-surgery, I was able to punch with full strength, just as Dr. Grawe predicted,” Jeremiah said. “Today, my shoulder is strong, and I may be punching harder than before my injury.”

Now, with a record of 16 wins (twelve by knockout), 13 losses and one draw, Jeremiah says “I've had good nights, bad nights, controversial decisions and two major injuries in my career,” but through it all, Jeremiah credits his hard work, training team and Dr. Grawe for his success.

“As my boxing journey has become intertwined with my medical journey, I’ve found that if you want to be the best, you need to connect with the best.”