Glen Burnie Boxer Fights Eye Injury That Clouds His Future

Sturm Misses Ring, But Risk Worries Him

August 22, 1991|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff writer

The gaze of Chuck Sturm's deep-set, brown eyes drifts down at a scrapbook thick with clippings of his exploits, and suddenly, the boxer in him springs to life -- and to his feet.

The 5-foot-6, 147-pounder crouches into a threatening stance with his fists raised high around his ears.

His feet dig deep into the plush carpeting of the tiny living room in his Glen Burnie apartment as he flicks a piston-like jab at an imaginary opponent.

"The only problem is when the guy goes to my right side, that's when I see two of them," said Sturm. "But when he's in front of me, or if he goes to my left, there's no problem -- as long as I keep following him and keep him in front of me."

As a professional boxer, Sturm is believed to have been the biggest draw at Glen Burnie's LaFontaine Bleu. But he won't be there for tonight's show, which begins at 8:30.

For the last nine months, Sturm's battles have moved from the four corners of the boxing ring to the four wallsof doctors' offices because of damage to the fourth nerve of his right eye.

Sturm thinks the injury happened as a result of an accident while camping in Western Maryland two months before his last fight with Vinnie Burgese in November. He says he tripped and hit his head on a rock while carrying firewood.

"All the force of my body weight came down on my head and the rock," said Sturm, adding that he was "seeing double vision" while watching television about a week later.

"But one doctor thinks the problem was there before my head injury. He didn't come right out and say it, but he thinks it could have happened from boxing. My manager (Frank Gilbert) wanted me to pull out of the fight, but I felt it was my biggest opportunity, sowe kept (the injury) a secret."

Whenever he watches the videotape of his 10-round fight with Burgese, Sturm, who was 22-2-1 heading into the bout,remembers all those things beyond his control.

That night in Atlantic City's Harrah's Marina Hotel last year had been the biggest moment of his professional boxing life. It was the first televised fight of his 26-bout career -- and Sturm did everything in his power to take advantage of it before 1,500 partisan Burgese fans.

Throughout the junior welterweight fight, Sturm, then 25, demonstrated the talents that earned him the nickname "Pit Bull," hammering away at Burgese's tender midsection and forcing the hometown favorite against the ropes with bludgeoning overhand rights.

Even the Home Team Sports ringside announcer had the Old Mill High graduate ahead, 86-85, heading into the final round.

"I've always been able to make a guy fight my fight," said Sturm. The brawler rode a 17-bout unbeaten streak intothe bout.

But for only the third time ever, victory was yanked from the Pit Bull's jaws. For it was the three ringside judges -- and not the rugged Glen Burnie resident -- that delivered the most tellingblows.

Two judges scored the fight 96-94; the other, 98-92 -- allfor Burgese (then 21-2-1). A ringside commentator was moved to say, "It was a bad call for Sturm. I think he got the short end of this one."

But Sturm's Oct. 30 date with Dr. Mark W. Preslan, an ophthalmologist with the University of Maryland, looms bigger than even the Burgese fight as the most important moment in Sturm's life.

Preslanwas recommended by Dr. Leeds E. Katzen, the eye specialist who operated on Sugar Ray Leonard's detached retina and helped to resurrect the famous fighter's career.

Sturm is hoping Preslan can do the samefor him.

"He's going to tell me whether or not I should fight again, or whether fighting with the injury would be too risky," said Sturm, who drives a truck 10 hours a day for Valley Protein Inc. "It's in God's hands now. Hopefully, the doctor will let me fight again, butmaybe God's trying to tell me something."

Said 29-year-old TraceySturm, Chuck's wife of four years, "This is like the eighth doctor he has seen."

Sturm stays in shape by running three miles a day with Tracey, training on his Nordic Track, a machine that simulates skiing, and lifting 55-pound barrels on the job.

"I think he really had a chance in boxing, and it literally makesme sick that he hasn't been able to fight," said Tracey. "But I think we have to stop dwellingon it. We have to stop thinking about what could have been."

Sturm has faced adversity before.

On Jan. 15, 1990, Sturm lay pinned in an 18-wheeler after rolling it on the Interstate 83.

He was pulled free after 20 minutes, but surgery to remove broken bones from hisarm left a six-inch scar on his left elbow. As a result, the fightercould no longer get full extension on his left jab.

Sturm returned to the ring on July 21 for the first time in eight months, using a body punch at 2:35 of the fifth round to get the seventh knockout of his career over Washington's Darrell Richardson.

Almost a year after his trucking accident, Sturm was rear-ended in his car and suffered a back injury, which kept him from working his regular job for a month.

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