Q&A - Unbeaten Army Capt. Boyd Melson Fights on for Spinal Cord Injuries!
By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (Oct 6, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Photo: Boyd Melson

Future Army Capt. Boyd Melson, 6-0 (3), of White Plains, NY, was about to enter his last year during the summer of his senior year at West Point when he met someone who would change his outlook on life. Her name was Christan Zaccagnino who had suffered a Spinal Cord Injury at the age of 10 which was 9 years before their meeting. She was wheelchair bound initially paralyzing her from the neck down. She was told she had a 3% chance of ever regaining movement let alone walking again. “I will walk again,” she said.

Melson made his Atlantic City debut on October 1st on the Sergio Martinez-Darren Barker WBC light middleweight championship undercard. The “Rainmaker” as he is known won all 6 rounds over much taller Russ Niggemyer, 2-4 (2), out of OH, in the light middleweight division. Zaccagnino had called him this jokingly years ago after watching the movie “The Power of One” where the name was given to a character in the movie while he was a teenager in South Africa because of how he brought hope to the different African tribes in a prison through his character and his boxing. Melson chose to adopt this name because of his quest to do his part in bringing hope to Spinal Cord Injured Human Beings through his character and boxing so that they may one day rise up out of their wheelchairs and walk again.

Melson turned professional in November of 2010 and had won all his fights in NY including his most recent one in NJ. He is not currently signed with a promoter, but he is coached by Joey Gamache and Burney Lenahan, has his father First Sergeant Retired Nolan Melson Jr. in the corner with him for every fight, and managed by Allan Wartski.

Melson donates his entire purse after every single fight to the Non-Profit Foundation Justadollarplease found at www.justadollarplease.org This foundation was established to specifically raise funds for the first ever U.S. Clinical Trial using Umbilical Cord Cells from Umbilical Cords donated after birth. The Cells will be injected directly into the Spinal Cords of injured Spinal Cord Human Beings immediately above and below the site of injury with the aim of curing Spinal Cord Injuries. The trial is set to launch early next year at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, TX, and the trial will be expanded nationally 6 months later heavily concentrating in NY and NJ. With direct help from his mother Annette Melson, money is raised through donations in the lead up to every fight for Disabled Veterans that he donates to the Wounded Warrior Project.

His grandparents are Holocaust Survivors having lived in Poland during the Holocaust. The trunks Melson wears tells a story in itself. “WEST POINT 03” across his back waist. There is the Star of David on one side representing his grandparents while a camouflaged wheelchair on another side paying tribute to our Disabled Veterans. “FIGHT TO WALK” runs across the front of his waist bringing awareness to Zaccagnino’s daily battle, Spinal Cord Injuries world-wide and the need to create Clinical Trials to offer them a chance at regaining an independent life.

Melson was a 2004 World Military Champion, won a silver medal at the 2006 US Championships, placed 5th at the 2005 Amateur World Championships and is a 3-Time US Armed Forces Gold Medalist boxing champion. In 2008 he was an Olympic team Alternate in Beijing. He is a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and now serving in the US Army Reserves. Additionally, Melson works a corporate job for Johnson & Johnson in their Ethicon Division as a Medical Device Rep where he sells Sutures to Surgeons to be used operatively in their medical facilities, and he teaches boxing and overall fitness classes in Brooklyn and throughout Manhattan for the Equinox Fitness Club Franchise.

Melson and Zaccagnino have traveled together to China twice for Stem Cell surgeries, Amman, Jordan for a Cell transplant, Mexico for Stem Cell injections, and participated in different studies for Spinal Cord Injuries conducted in the tri-state area. He helped her relocate to San Diego, CA, for a few months to pursue a promising physical therapy program. They are still chasing their dream of her walking again every day.

A study has been carried out by his friend Dr. Wise Young who was Christopher Reeve’s advisor when Reeves suffered a broken neck. Dr. Young is the MD/PhD responsible for creating the U.S. Umbilical Cord Clinical Trial launching in the states next year. In 2005, TIME MAGAZINE awarded Dr. Young with the honor of being “America’s Best in Spinal Cord Injuries.” His life’s work has culminated in this trial designed to offer a chance at regaining an independent life for people such as Zaccagnino and Disabled Veterans sentenced to a wheelchair resulting from a Spinal Cord Injury. Please go to http://www.justadollarplease.org and donate a least just a dollar towards this trial. We all share this planet so we all need to share this fight!

Through boxing writer Matt Yanofsky, Melson agreed to do a Q&A while training for his upcoming fight at the Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City.

Ken Hissner: Boyd, you’re bringing the awareness of Spinal Cord Injuries after meeting Christan in 2002 is a story in itself. How has she progressed to this day?

Boyd Melson: Christan is a Human Being that gives direct testimony to the power of a person’s mind. Shortly after meeting her, she shared with me that she never believed that her life was meant to be spent in a chair. I believe that her belief is the first reason why she has gained as much as she had and has not lost as much as she could have lost. Breaking her neck at age 10, she was immediately pulled out of school during the summer of her entering 5th grade. She missed grades 5-8, yet still graduated from Portchester High School on pace with her correct year group in Westchester, NY, earned her Undergraduate Degree out of Iona College still on pace with her correct year group, and earned her Master’s Degree out of Iona College shortly after. She completed all of this while continuing physical therapy anywhere from 3-4 hours a day from the moment she was able to start her physical therapy. If you look at her, she appears as if she is choosing to sit in a chair. She regained most of her movement from her waist up, she regained sensation throughout her body, she has incredible muscular tone and strength in her arms, and her legs refused to atrophy to the bone like the traditional Spinal Cord Injured Human Being suffers from due to the loss of voluntary use of their legs. She is 18 plus years post-injury, and she is able to wiggle her toes, move her feet, transfer in and out of her chair from one location to sit to another location to sit, and can take steps with the assistance of full leg braces on, a walker and someone trained at guiding the walker. When manually brought to a standing position with legs locked out and something to hold on to, she is even able to stand for periods at a time without any person holding her around her knees to help keep her legs locked out. She currently works a full-time job for New York Life in Manhattan as an agent selling Life Insurance while continuing her daily physical therapy. One of the four procedures she had significantly helped with increasing her overall sensation as well as overall muscular strength and actually woke up muscles that did not work prior to the procedure. A second of the four procedures additionally helped with all of these improvements, but not near the extent of the procedure primarily responsible for much of her gains. They helped give her the ability to transfer in and out of her chair as well as improved certain biological functions. It is important to note that none of the procedures she had involved using Umbilical Cord Cells, and Dr. Young’s studies have shown that these are the Cells that have a realistic chance of offering the type of improvement that will actually allow enough improvement to not only live an independent life, but actually allow for people such as Christan to walk again. Dr. Young started his trial in China in November of 2010 where it had to be shown as safe before the FDA would approve of the trial here in the United States. It was carried out in two different locations in China, and he shared that the patients undergoing the trial in one of the locations were injured for an average of 10 years. When I asked him about the results so far, he shared that many of the patients first started to regain feeling in places they did not have feeling for an average of 10 years, and a few months after that started to regain movement. Now the reason it is not an immediate fix is a very important factor that people need to understand. Nerves at best grow on an average at the speed that humans grow hair on their head. When a Spinal Cord Injury happens, immediately the nerve damage is localized only to where the actual injury happened. However, as time progresses with the chain in the Spinal Cord being broken, all the nerves below the injury die as well. As a result, the Umbilical Cord Cells not only have to help re-grow the nerves at the site of the injury, but then have to help those nerves grow all the way down the Spinal Cord from the site of the injury to the end of the Cord. In a perfect world, as they grow, they connect with the different body parts they are responsible for sending signals too for feeling and movement to take place. Healing is not perfect though, and many of the nerves will not grow, and many will grow but will not connect like they need to. Fortunately, it has been discovered that 90% of your daily bodily functions can be carried out with a Spinal Cord that is only 10% intact. So it is that 10% Dr. Young and all of us at a minimum are hoping for. A grand slam will essentially turn them back into what they were before they were injured. A solo homerun should allow them to walk again. A real good at bat will hopefully allow them to walk again, but most important, should allow them enough return to live an independent life again. Christan will tell you after 18 plus years in a chair that she has been in the batting cages practicing every day for at least a strong at bat. I wanted to emphasize that Cells of any type will not create the “cure” on their own. It was what you did and what you do with your mind, body, and should from the moment you were injured until the moment you have the cells in your body. It can be compared to an athlete recovering from a blown out knee. If you perform surgery and repair the knee, but the athlete does not undergo any physical therapy, the knee will be fixed but the athlete will never get any type of use out of their knee that resembles what it was originally designed for. Christan shows that being an athlete begins in your mind and is living proof that the body will follow if the mind is strong enough.

KH: You have quite an amateur background while attending West Point and currently a Captain in the US Army reserves today. How many fights did you have in the amateurs?

BM: I had 18 Inter-Collegiate bouts. I participated in Intra-mural bouts at West Point as well as an annual smoker called the Brigade Open which is an all comer’s tournament Cadet versus Cadet, and I had about 50 matches after college. Collegiate boxing is designed to be a Novice level sport for amateur boxers where you are not allowed to compete Inter-Collegiately if you had more than 5 bouts outside of college before your first Inter-Collegiate bout. I began boxing my freshman year known as your “Plebe” years at West Point as “Plebe Boxing” is a mandatory class not just at West Point, but at the Naval and Air Force Academies as well. The course teaches you the basics, but is designed for the purpose of teaching you to face your fear in one-on-one combat in preparation for inevitable battle through war-time conditions as an Officer. You are taught at your infant stage as a Cadet at the Academy what it is like to have to rely only on yourself in the face of physical adversity.

KH: You were an alternate in the 2008 Olympics welterweight division. Was that to Demetrius Andrade?

BM: I was an Alternate to Demetrius Andrade who is one of the most gifted boxers I have ever seen in my entire life. Keith Thurman was the first boxer to become the Alternate. I had beaten Keith earlier as an amateur, but he beat me in the trials. Keith decided to turn professional immediately after the trials. The Alternate slot was then given to Charles Hatley. I had beaten Charles earlier as well as an amateur, but he beat me in the trials. Charles left as the alternate a month in, and it was given to me.

KH: I see you were quite busy having 3 professional bouts in 2 months from May to July of this year. Has your reserve duty made it difficult in obtaining bouts since?

BM: Not at all. I had a brief lay-off after my first fight due to being cut above both eyes from incidental head-butts. I then had a much longer lay-off after my second fight due to a slight fracture to my thumb. I suffered during my fight followed by my Army Reserve Unit ordering me to have my Wisdom teeth removed as part of being Combat Ready. I have had two more matches since July through current day, and if all goes well, I am hoping to have three more matches before the end of 2011. I am extremely fortunate with the fact that I am able to sell a large amount of tickets per fight to people that support not just me but my cause as well. As you know, being able to generate a lot of ticket sales helps get the attention of promoters so that you can fight on their cards. Of great importance is my manager Allan Wartski and his connections throughout the professional boxing community. He is one of the greatest blessings my life could have ever asked for.

KH: I see your name on DiBella Entertainment’s list of fighters.

BM: I have fought on three of Lou’s cards, but I am not signed with DiBella or anyone for that matter. He has a strong friendship with my manager which helps with getting me on Lou’s cards, and Lou has made it known to me on multiple occasions how much of a supporter he is of my mission to bring an awareness to this Clinical Trial through my person, my donations, and my boxing. I will forever be grateful to Lou DiBella for his decision to help give me a platform to publicly fight for my cause in the ring. I will forever greatly appreciate his help.

KH: Saturday was your first time out of NY fighting in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall under a Sergio Martinez defense. I think he’s No. 2 p4p. Have you had a chance to meet him?

BM: Man, Sergio is my favorite professional boxer. You have to remember that I did not grow up boxing or even planned to box. It kind of just happened. I am a kid inside through and through. So many times I have to remind myself that I am living this and cannot just enjoy watching it as a fan. Whenever I go to an event, my first thought is to see which boxers are there that I’ve seen on television so I can meet them and hopefully get an autograph. I do not think I will ever see myself as a peer to them regardless of how well I do or do not do in this sport. I met Sergio at my second match on a DiBella undercard at BB King in Manhattan. Was I ever a kid with a big Kool-Aide smile on my face!

KH: Have you set any goals as far as your boxing and military careers?

BM: I have finished my mandatory military obligation of 5 years Active Duty resulting from my attendance at and graduation from West Point. After those 5 years, you have a duty of 3 years in the Army In-Active Ready Reserves called the IRR. You essentially have no daily affiliation with the Army, but your name exists on a list where you could be called back from to serve. Instead of going into the IRR, you have the choice of staying on Active Duty for another 3 years or joining the Army Reserves for those 3 years to complete the rest of that obligation. I completed my three-year IRR Duty 31May 2011 by serving in the Army Reserves out of Fort Hamilton where I was and am still assigned to the 1179th Transportation Brigade. I was originally commissioned as a Field Artillery Officer, but a job in Field Artillery does not exist in the Reserves. Right now I am currently a Captain, and I am voluntary serving in the Reserves under no obligation. I am scheduled to begin the Captains Career Course in January of next year which is mandatory to complete in order to be promoted to the rank of Major in the Army. I do not have a readily set end-point to my time in the Army Reserves, and I hope that the conditions in my life afford me to put a total of 20 years in the Service. As far as boxing goes, my goal is to keep at it to see how successful I can be. In a perfect world, I do not plan on boxing beyond my mid 30’s and definitely not beyond 34 or 35. I do not plan on boxing if the sport lets me know that maybe I should be trying something else because I am not of high enough caliber to keep progressing through the levels. I have my Undergraduate Degree from West Point and an MBA as well, so I would like to put that to use. One of my dreams is to one day become a motivational speaker, and if I could focus a lot of those speeches on helping improve the lives of those suffering from medical afflictions, then I will have lived a happy life. Another dream is to one day earn a Doctorate in Cellular Biology. If I could do that with a professional boxing championship on my resume, then I will have lived an even happier life. I train every day for every match as hard as I can from 8PM-10PM after work, sometimes run in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep, and try to run a few times a week during my lunch hour at work. Should the day come that I fall short in the ring or it is just time to say good-bye, as I have done with almost everything I am passionate about in life, I will know that it was not due to me failing to do all I could to prepare.

KH: I understand you and Christan were hoping for Dr. Young’s Clinical Trials to open in the fall. What is the status of that?

BM: As far as I know, it is launching in January of 2012 in Austin, TX, at Brackenridge Hospital.

KH: I want to ask all the viewers of this site to pray for Christan and you in helping to bring a cure to Spinal Cord Injuries. I also want to thank you Boyd for taking the time from your busy schedule to answer these questions.

BM: Thank you my friend for choosing to listen to what I have to say. This trial is much greater than any one person in boxing and more important than anything that boxing has to offer. We are looking at the hopes of having the first ever cure in Spinal Cord Injuries where a cure means a chance for Spinal Cord Injured Human Beings to live an independent life. A chance to live where they can give birth to their kids, play with their kids, raise their kids, walk their children down the aisle, teach their children how to box – feel like Human Beings again in the way God intended for them to live. Money needs to be donated for this trial to happen. They need to raise 12 million dollars to treat 120 patients in the trial. The government is not helping with a penny to raise these funds. I am giving what I can through my fights, but I do not earn much at all. I beg you to go to www.justadollarplease.org and give one dollar. If everyone in NYC gave just one dollar, the money would be raised. If everyone gave one dollar, this cure might happen. We will never know if this will be the cure unless the money is raised, and if we all do not give, then the money will not be raised. One single dollar please. Just give it. It is 4 quarters. This is not a disease. It has nothing to do with genetics. I do not care how strong you are. NFL players break their necks and backs and they are super humans. It can happen to any one of us in a single moment, and our lives are changed drastically for the worse for every moment after that moment. It is a life sentence chained to a wheelchair. You become a prisoner in your own body. Your entire family suffers because of the strain on them by having to help so much as well as the strain on them for feeling helpless by not being able to help more. It is your mother in the chair, your child, your brother, your best friend, your wife. A dollar for a cure. Please give. Help them fight to walk. That is what I stand for. Helping our Wounded Warriors regain the lives they had before they volunteered to have our country tell them where to go to protect it is what I believe in. I will never stop fighting fort this until a cure comes that helps Christan live the life she has prayed for throughout her past 18 plus years. Type the name Christan Zaccagino into google to see a picture of that precious soul, and you tell me you are not willing to give 4 quarters to help her smile the way she is begging for again. Then take those 4 quarters and go to the darn website www.justadollarplease.org and donate them. I will not ask you for another penny, but I will ask you to ask another to go to the website and give of their quarters. It may be your child one day that those 4 quarters created a cure for so you do not have to helplessly hear your baby’s daily cries as they live in a wheelchair watching their friends play outside helplessly while they sit in their rooms during the summer. Help support my Fight in the ring and outside of the ring to help those who really need help while they Fight To Walk. Thank you with Strength and Love for your time in listening to my heart.

KH: I went to the site prior to the story and now I will be reaching out to others to do the same. It’s better to give than receive when you can help another. You certainly will feel better for it!

Make sure you check out the NEW and IMPROVED Doghouse Boxing Forums (Mobile Friendly) DogPound

NEW: Follow Doghouse Boxing on FaceBook!
For more Boxing News 24/7 and so much more... 
visit our homepage now!

© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing Inc. 1998-2011