DeRae Crane Is Amending His ‘Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda’ Story
by Shawn Smith
What brought 38-year-old DeRae Crane out of retirement and back into the ring for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing in Lafayette, Louisiana, this week?
“Everyone has a ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ story, and it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me,” Crane said. “I didn’t want to be that guy.”
Midway through the tournament, Crane — the oldest athlete competing at these Olympic trials — has been one of the biggest stories to emerge. In the process, he’s moving closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream and crossing his own “woulda, coulda, shoulda” story off his list.
Ever since he watched U.S. boxer David Reid knock out Cuba’s Alfredo Duvergel to win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Crane has always wanted to be an Olympian.
“That’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do — to be an Olympian,” Crane said. “I’ve done a lot of other things in my life, but those weren’t the things that I looked at as something I really wanted to be doing.”
That dream could have ended at many points along the way.
Like many inner-city kids, he started boxing to stay out of trouble. A gym in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, provided a safe afterschool space, but it was only because the gym was free and easily accessible from his house that he was able to train there.
Years later, he saw the success of the boxing program at Northern Michigan University and successfully applied to school there. Unsure how he would pay tuition, Crane appealed directly to the program’s legendary boxing coach, Al Mitchell, who ultimately decided to take a chance on the unheralded teenager by offering him a full-ride scholarship.
“This was a pivotal moment in my life and my career,” Crane said. “If Al had turned me away that day, my life would look very different.”
Joining the program allowed Crane to spar regularly with top-ranked talent, but getting beaten in those sparring sessions took a toll on him. When he went home for winter break that year, he found himself crying on his dad’s couch and came close to quitting.
Crane’s first appearance at the Olympic trials came in 2008, but it was a self-described “nightmare.” He struggled to make weight and suffered a broken nose and fractured sinus cavity in the bout that eliminated him.
Shortly after that disappointment, Crane’s dad suffered a stroke, which sent the young boxer to the lowest point of his life.
“I was in a bad spot for five or six months,” Crane recalled. “That was my first experience with depression. I went into a depression after those ’08 trials, and that’s the only time in my life I’ve ever felt so low and felt that darkness where athletes go after a terrible performance.”
Out of the darkness, Crane joined the Army World Class Athlete Program but was unable to qualify for the national team ahead of the 2012 London Games. Faced with a “gap year” between Olympic quadrennials, he voluntarily deployed to Afghanistan.
“When I joined the military, I had no intention of ever deploying,” said Crane, who spent 12 years in the Army and got out as a captain. “But while I was at basic training, I developed relationships with first and second lieutenants, and we were close. When I was at WCAP, I was hearing about people who were deploying, and then you hear about some of them not coming home. And that really bothered me. It didn’t sit well with me that here I am in a non-deployable unit and I’m not getting in the fight.”
For the next Olympic cycle, Crane moved up a weight class but dealt with injuries. He had three surgeries ahead of the 2016 Olympic trials, which went well for him but ultimately ended after a pair of defeats against Cam F. Awesome.
This time, there was no depression that followed his loss. Instead, Crane felt content.
“I gave everything I possibly could to the sport,” he said. “I didn’t cut a single corner, I didn’t take days off, I didn’t slack — that’s not even in my DNA. There was nothing else I could have done.”
Crane spent the next several years retired from the sport. He took motorcycle trips, traveled Southeast Asia, went skydiving, moved to Houston, started working in the energy sector and got an MBA from Rice University. Then in February 2022, he went down to the local gym and spoke to Ronald Simms about making one more Olympic run.
Aside from getting rid of his “woulda, coulda, shoulda” story, Crane has one more reason for this comeback.
“To be able to show my son and share this with him, it means the world to me,” Crane said about his 14-year-old.
With Olympic trials underway this week, Crane is already proving that his decision was the right one. Competing in the men’s 92 kg. bracket, he knocked out his first opponent, Jacob Cox, in under two minutes with what he deemed a “perfect punch.”
Crane followed that up by eliminating the division’s No. 2 seed, Charles Pugh, on Wednesday in a “rugged, rough” bout that resulted in a 4-1 decision.
On Friday, Crane will face No. 3 seed Malachi Georges in a semifinal bout. The winner will face either Tyler Yavalar, who eliminated No. 1 seed Ben Turla on Wednesday, or Danel Brown in the final.
Although winning the Olympic trials would not automatically earn Crane a trip to Paris 2024, it would move him one step closer to fulfilling his dream.
“For me to win the trials, being the oldest, that would go to show that if you want something, you can do it, you can have it,” Crane said. “But you have to be willing to pay the price for it. You have to stick to it, you have to be consistent, you can’t quit. You have to embrace the process and the pain.”
In other action this week in Lafayette, one of the biggest upsets came courtesy of Delaware’s Carlos Flowers on Wednesday. The 20-year-old defeated No. 1 seed Benjamin Johnson to reach the semifinals of the men’s 71 kg. division. Flowers’ next bout comes against Joseph Almajdi on Friday.
That leaves five No. 1 seeds who successfully reached the semifinal round in their respective weight classes on the men’s side. In the women’s divisions, four of the six No. 1 seeds remain in the semifinals. All weight classes for both men and women will have semifinal bouts on Friday afternoon, followed by the finals on Saturday afternoon.