For the past year, Kenny Lyons says, his life has been a continuous replay of The 19-year-old boxer is up every day at 5 a.m. for road work, then spends his evenings in a gym. When not working as a messenger on Capitol Hill, Lyons is either training - or recovering from it.
"When I leave the gym, I'm a little too tired to hit the streets," says Lyons, who lives alone in a Southeast Washington paratment, trains at Oakcrest Community Center in Maryland and plans to be champion of the world someday.
"I want to win the Olympics and give kids something to look up to. The same way that Sugar Ray (Leonard) did it."
Lyons is one of a growing number of area athletes working pugnaciously toward that dream. Sugar Ray Leonard, native son of Palmer Park Md., gold medal winner in the 1976 Olympics and currently boxing's youngest millionaire, has helped update the Horatio Alger story for a generation of young athletes.
In gymnasiums throughout suburban Maryland and the District, kids who might be practicing hook shots or shagging fly balls in center field are eagerly learning to take it on the chin because of Leonard and four other American boxers who won gold medals in Montreal.
"I must have had 500 calls since 1976 from people who want to box or want their kids to," says Dave Jacobs, Sugar Ray Leonard's trainer and a local coach. "The Olympic games turned a lot of people on."
When not working Leonard's corner, Jacobs runs a boxing program at Oakcrest Community Center in Prince George's County, funded by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. There are 35 amateur boxers in the program, aged 10 to 24 and, like Lyons, few expect anything less from the sport than fame and fortune.
"I'll be in the 1988 Olympics," explaines 10-year-old Jeff Furmage, a fifth grader at Robert Frost Elementary School in New Carrollton who has the face of an agel and the confidence of a seasoned pro. "I got the killer instinct."
"You've got to believe in yourself if you want to make the Olympics," says Jacobs, who spent some lean years himself on a diet of hard work and hope.
A former fighter in the District, Jacobs started his boxing team with neighborhood kids at Palmer Park Recreation Center in 1971, borrowed equipment and his own money. It was not, says Jacobs, the best of times for boxing.
"In 1971, people said boxing was dead. Parents didn't want their kids boxing. They were afraid they'd get hurt."
Jacobs was working as a driver for a pharmacy in Annandale then, volunteering his early evenings for a club that was soon winning amateur titles and national respect. In 1974, Jacobs was named Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coach of the year. In 1975, he coached the United States team in the Pan American games. But it wasn't until e 1976 Olympics, says Jacobs, that boxing regained some lost lustre and a horde of new recruits.
In the last five years, the number of amateur boxing clubs in this area has increased from a handful to a few dozen. The D.C. Recreation Department has 200 boxers training in city recreation programs. The Police Boys Clubs and private athletic clubs have a few hundred more.
"Everybody wants to emulate somebody," says J. D. Brown, director of the Fairfax Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, which provides free coaching for District residents interested in boxing. "Sugar Ray, the young millionaire, gave boxing its glamour."
Oakcrest, which is just across the District line, has one of the best area facilities. Around a regulation-sized sparring ring are full length mirrors in which to study form. There also are six speed bags and four heavy punching bags. In the basement, there is a much appreciated shower.
But the main attraction at Oakcrest is Jacobs. He has struck Olympic gold and returned to share his wealth.
"Jake (Jacobs) has Ray Leonard, that's what makes his flag fly so high," says Ham Johnson, coach of the Ham Athletic Club in the District.
Johnson, who calls himself the "godfather of the ghetto," has converted a room in the Eliot Recreation Center at 18th and C streets NE into a boxing gym. It is not adequate, complains Johnson, but it is a giant step from the alley behind his apartment at 15th and Isherwood streets NE where he began training neighborhood kids in 1968.
Johnson is now paid a salary through the Community Based Programs, which is funded by the D.C. Recreation Department. There is no charge to the boxers. In fact, says Johnson, he paid $300 from his own pocket this year for AAU cards for some of his fighters.
"Any tournament I enter, we take care of business," says Johnson, who has by his count, 52 trophies stacked in his one-bedroom apartment. Like Jacobs, Johnson trained a fighter who competed in the 1976 Olympics, but his charge, Louis Curtis, did not strike gold.
Johnson works at night as a stock clerk in a supermarket and trains his boxers in the afternoons. For the last few weeks he has been busy getting his best fighters ready for an AAU tournament in Ohio next week.
That tournament is important because it will help determine national rankings before next year's Olympic trials. All the area boxing clubs have stepped up training to prepare for it - as best they can.
"My problem is I've got no place big enough to train," says Aubrey Greenhow, coach of a Capitol Hill boxing club.Greenhow's team of 60 boxers has been training in the basement of his house on Constitution Avenue in Northeast for the past two years. Occasionally, Greenhow takes some of his boxers out to Oakcrest to spar and share some of Jacobs' optimism.
"Everybody's getting ready now for the 1980 Olympics," says Jacobs, whose green eyes dance when he talks about prospects for the future., "With the Lord's help, I do believe I can do it again." CAPTION: Picture, Dave Jacobs, trainer at the Oakcrest Community Center. By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post