Rice fights back to pursue career

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 2, 2006

in sweet science

By Rick Breland

The Natchez Democrat

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NATCHEZ &8212; The story of Cleothia Rice III is one of overcoming adversity both in and outside of the ring.

The 31-year-old Natchez native turned boxer has endured a lion&8217;s share of obstacles en route to becoming the man he is today, but through it all, the support of his family and a love for boxing have helped him navigate life&8217;s difficulties.

Nowadays, Rice&8217;s time is spent between training for a career in boxing at the Gulfport Boxing Club and working as a day laborer.

But long before Rice began to use his hands for something positive, they were the source of a number of problems.

&8220;I guess you could say I fought a lot,&8221; Rice said. &8220;I was frequently in trouble because I refused to let anything slide. Fighting was something I felt confident about. I never feared other kids because they were bigger or stronger than me.&8221;

Rice said that his aggressiveness stemmed from being scared of a new school and his past experiences of being bullied through middle school.

&8220;I had heard all the horror stories about kids bringing brass knuckles to the school. I made up my mind that I wasn&8217;t going to be bullied when I got there,&8221; Rice said.

Rice didn&8217;t wait long to live out that decision. On his first day of junior high, Rice got in a fight with a kid, who had bullied him during middle school. From then on, Rice said he was in at least one fight a month with classmates.

While Rice was having trouble at school with classmates, he also had difficulties with his class work. Rice had been in and out of slow-learning disability classes and the constant going back and forth between the two curriculums left him feeling frustrated and lacking the ability to fit in comfortably in either setting. It also led to more antagonizing from classmates, which led to more fights and more problems with school.

It wasn&8217;t long before the problems at school began to start spilling over into his home life, as Rice found himself fighting with his parents. The outbursts became more and more severe and at age 14 Rice was sent to a treatment facility in Alexandria, La. to analyze and help him deal with the problems he was having.

That experience had a profound impact upon Rice, although not necessarily a positive one. Rice learned a few days into his stay that he had been placed in a psychiatric facility.

&8220;I was confused and outraged,&8221; Rice said. &8220;My mom had told me that it was a fun place with swimming pools and when I got there it was totally different. I couldn&8217;t go outside, and the rules where very strict. I showed anger at being locked up.&8221;

Rice said he met with a psychiatrist a few days into the stay and was placed on heavy psychotropic medications. According to Rice the doctor had used Rice&8217;s outbursts at the facility as justification of prescribing the medications.

Rice completed a 30-day stay at the treatment facility before returning home, but unfortunately things did not improve.

&8220;I was angry with my parents and it was the beginning of the forming of a negative pattern,&8221; Rice said. &8220;I held a grudge that took a long time to overcome.&8221;

Rice went on to spend the bulk of his adolescence in and out of psychiatric facilities and felt he was becoming close to being a permanent resident.

&8220;I had a doctor tell me once that if I ever came back (to his facility), that he would keep me there for the rest of my life&8221; Rice said. &8220;I had no doubt he was telling the truth.&8221;

After being released, Rice once again was placed in the Mississippi State Hospital, and after four months of being there, he began to wonder if he would ever see the outside world again.

It was then that Rice had what he describes as his breaking point.

&8220;I hit rock bottom. I felt I had no future for myself. I couldn&8217;t see myself ever getting out treatment centers,&8221; Rice said. &8220;I walked back to my bed, dropped to my knees, and cried and then laughed joyfully. After I had prayed I felt relieved.&8221;

Soon thereafter, Rice&8217;s mood improved, as did his behavior. He was released and moved back home with his family. He took up boxing as a means to channel himself and his emotions. But after three years Rice quit boxing due too financial constraints. He also suffered the loss of his trainer George Hogan, who had become more than just someone who taught Rice about boxing.

&8220;That was a tough period for me,&8221; Rice said. &8220;I wasn&8217;t working. I was very close to (Hogan), and visited his house three or four times a week. It was like losing family.&8221;

But a few months ago, Rice&8217;s passion for boxing was rekindled, and he began training for a return to the ring.

Since his return to boxing Rice is 2-0, and is looking more and more like the fighter he always dreamed of being when he was younger.

Rice said his next goal is to qualify for the Olympics, but if he doesn&8217;t make achieve that goal, he plans to turn professional.

Turning professional is something his current trainer Warren Migues has been encouraging Rice to do.

&8220;He won&8217;t make much money, but he&8217;ll make some money, which is better than the trophies he gets right now&8221; Migues said. &8220;He&8217;s a real long shot to make the Olympics, those guys are almost always real young and he&8217;s 31.&8221;

But whether or not Rice ever qualifies for the Olympics or wins any title belts, he feels he&8217;s still a champion for having overcome his problems with anger and mental illness.

Rice said he hopes that his story can help someone else, who might be experiencing the same sort of difficulties he faced growing up.

&8220;I&8217;ve gotten wiser and am picking up more and more things now that I&8217;m 31,&8221; Rice said. &8220;I know I got off to a late start, but I learned from my mistakes and losses. I learned that no matter what you just have to make the most of it.&8221;