DUNDALK -- Just in time for his 4:15 appointment yesterday afternoon, Chuck Sturm walked into the dimly lighted office of Dr. Thomas R. O'Rourk, an ophthalmologist with a private practice in Dundalk.
"You're the fighter?" asked receptionist Marie White, staring at the 5-foot-6, 140-pound boxer standing in front of her desk.
"Gosh, you're so small. Aren't you afraid of getting hurt?"
That's why Sturm was there in the first place -- to make sure it was safe to go back into the ring.
And after running several routine tests yesterday -- including the reading of the rows of letters on the Snellin eye chart -- O'Rourk confirmed that Sturm not only doesn't need glasses, but that "he is off and running."
Which means that Sturm, tentatively scheduled for Josh Hall's June 25 card at Michael's 8th Avenue, could be back in the ring for the first time since his controversial decision loss to Vinnie Burgese in November 1990.
Although Sturm is still unsure how the injury occurred, damage to the fourth nerve in his right eye had him seeing double and seemed about to end a promising boxing career.
The symptoms continued for more than a year, through several visits to doctors offices.
"Until about two months ago, when I started seeing normal, I had always had 20/20 vision before anything happened to my eye," said Sturm, who has a 21-3-1 record.
"Now the real fight starts," said Sturm, who still must get approval from the Maryland State Athletic Commission.
"They know the history of my injury and they could still be looking for stuff. Sometimes, they're unpredictable."
Sturm said he will turn over O'Rourk's report to his manager, Frank Gilbert, who will submit it to the commission.
"I expect Josh to make the fight for me," Sturm said. "But hopefully, they'll examine me at least a few days before the fight."
And if everything goes according to plan, "The Pit Bull" will be back in action.
Sturm discovered he was seeing double during the two months before battling Burgese, but kept the injury a secret because the fight offered his largest payday ($3,500). Sturm lost the bout -- 96-94 on two judges' cards, 98-92 on the third -- but had made a name for himself.
But as lucrative fight deals began pouring in -- one to fight in France, and two others from famous matchmakers Bob Arum and Don Elbaum -- Gilbert kept turning them down, concerned for his fighter's safety.
Last October, Sturm was seen by Dr. Mark W. Preslan. Recommended by Dr. Leeds E. Katzen, the eye specialist who helped to resurrect the career of Sugar Ray Leonard, Preslan suggested an eye operation that would "recess or weaken the inferior oblique muscle in his right eye" and get rid of the double vision.
About five months ago, however, Sturm began experiencing gradual improvement in his vision.
"I've been able to see normal for about two months now, but I still waited a month before I started sparring again," said Sturm, who expects to weigh in at about 137 for his first fight. Even though he weighed as much as 155 pounds during his ring absence, Sturm remained in top condition by running three miles a day with his wife, Tracey, and training on his Nordic Track, a machine that simulates cross-country skiing.
He recently stepped up his training, however, to include sparring, shadow boxing, the Stairmaster, and running six days a week for a total of 25 to 30 miles.
"I've been hitting the heavy bag, sparring 10 to 12 rounds a week and working the double-end bag," said Sturm. "I told my wife that if I see any change [for the worse] in my eye during training or in a fight, then I'd stop and we'd go on with our lives."
Over five years, he estimates his ring winnings at only $12,000. He makes around $27,000 at his current job as a truck driver for Valley Protein and "gets a good workout" hoisting 55-pound barrels.
Tracey Sturm attends the University of Baltimore and is a year away from earning her business degree. And on May 28, the Sturms will settle on a three-bedroom duplex in Chesterfield, where they plan to start a family in a year.
"We're doing well financially, so we don't really need the income," Sturm said. "I'm fighting more now for the glory and the personal satisfaction.
"I don't want to be sitting back when I'm 34 saying, 'What if?' The desire to fight is emotional, something you can't really describe. I want to be able to say that I at least gave it a shot."