Just a few years ago, junior Steven Ware was working at a Saw Mill.
He had recently graduated from high school in Elkins, WV, and his family was suffering from financial trouble. He started to work his way up and earned his way to the highest pay raise, only to find out that the Saw Mill would close down.
At that point, Ware, now 28, searched for something, pretty much anything. He reached out to a friend attending WVU, hoping to create a new path.
“I asked him if he had a spare room,” Ware said. “I moved out here, found Ground Zero and started boxing here. I started working out with the WVU team.”
Ware fell in love with the Physical Education Program, a testament to his countless hours spent in the gym. From there, he found the boxing team, a decision that revamped his life.
He created a special bond with his teammates as soon as he started competing in the sport, going through all the highs and lows of mental/physical issues associated with it, including the times when you go many hours and sometimes two days without eating to maintain your weight and remain in the weight class.
“We’re there to represent our school,” Ware said. “We’re there to represent how much hard work it’s taken to build the program to where it’s at. We constantly have each other’s back through the whole process.”
Those teammates that work all the time with Ware are now among the top boxers at the collegiate level. Alongside Ware, there was Savannah Madonna, Sean Thrasher and Eric Toombs competing at the national championships this month in Indiana.
Madonna qualified as an All-American before falling a day ahead of the semifinals, Toombs finished second in his class and Thrasher fell in the quarterfinals. But it would be Ware who stole the show.
After defeating Vonn Grant from West Point—who “hit like a truck”—he was a national champion in the 132-pound class for the second time in his career.
“You’re just overwhelmed with happiness,” Ware said. “It is probably the first time I’ve ever cried being happy and hungry at the same time.”
It was the culmination of countless hours spent in the gym and training with his teammates to get to this point. On average, he estimates anywhere between 12 to 16 hours in the gym.
Training was the most difficult part of the journey, and was followed by eating very little. Ware sometimes went two days without food to maintain his 132-pound weight.
That’s when the celebration kicked in, with one fan in attendance taking him across the street to a nearby restaurant.
“I ended up eating two meatballs,” Ware said. “I couldn’t even put in a full meal. I was full after the meatballs. I was like ‘no.’ I wanted to eat so bad.”
To get to this point of being a national champion and celebrating, Ware needed to fight through difficult situations. Once working at a now closed down Saw Mill and growing up with financial trouble, he needed something.
So he found WVU. He found boxing. Now, he’s looking to help youth with similar circumstances fight through the obstacles.
In addition to his time in the ring and in the classroom as a Physical Education major—which he hopes to eventually earn his way into teaching and then the Board of Education—he volunteers to help youth that grew up with many of the same circumstances as he did.
“It’s amazing to me because those kids grew up a lot like I grew up, without a lot of opportunity, without a lot of people to encourage them to do things that are better…” Ware said. “It just gives me a chance to maybe mentor somebody to get out of the situation that I was stuck in when I was younger.”
The Elkins native is just proud to be representing his home state and his home university in a distinct way. Just a few years ago, he didn’t know where life would take him.
Then he found his way to a national title and hearing congratulations from hundreds of fans, a moment he could barely describe.
“To be able to bring that home, there is really no words to describe something like that to be honest,” Ware said. “Just hearing the ‘Lets Go Mountaineers’ chant in the football stadium will be the only way to explain it. It’s just beautiful.”