Boxing champ pursues Olympic dream after jail

June 29, 2011 (CHICAGO)

A year ago, Semajay Thomas was in jail on murder charges. In November, a jury found him not guilty in less than an hour. Thomas was freed and began pursuing his boxing dream.

Now, seven months later, Thomas is USA Boxing's Light Welterweight Champion. He is ranked number one as he trains for the Olympic Trials in August.

"I wasn't satisfied just making the Olympic Trials. I wanted to bring the Gold Medal back home to Chicago and make Chicago proud," he told ABC7's Stacey Baca.

Thomas won the tournament in Colorado Springs on Saturday. In victory, Thomas says he dropped to his knees to thank God and later released his emotions.

"I didn't want nobody to see me cry. I stepped in the bathroom...cried, I wanted to cry. I had the medal in my hand. It was a perfect moment," said Thomas.

The gold medal moment means a lot because Thomas says boxing and his family helped him survive 15 months in jail before a jury found him not guilty of murder last November. Now, Thomas wants to help kids who are in custody.

"I wanted to win something before I go back, so I can show them how I redeemed myself and how I bounced back," he said.

Thomas has an example to follow. His trainer, Nate Jones, spent 18 months in jail for auto theft. He went on to win the Heavyweight Bronze medal in the '96 Olympics.

"You can always come back and win, even through the rough times. Just believe in yourself. Winning is always possible," said Jones.

Winning also creates new challenges.

"The question is going to be staying focus, not allowing any of these outside forces to get in the way in what he needs to do in order to go where he can go. So I think that is the number one challenge. Staying focus," said Jon Erickson, Thomas' attorney.

Focus is what Thomas is about.

"It feels good. But I'm not satisfied. I want to bring the Olympic Gold home now," he said.

Thomas will spend the first week in August at the Olympic Trials in Mobile, Alabama. Of eight fighters in his weight class, only two will go to the 2012 Olympics.

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