During his darkest moments, Andre Berto was uplifited by two major sources.
RING super middleweight champion Andre Ward encouraged Berto, and the former two-time welterweight beltholder was also inspired by the memory of Nelson Mandela, whose grandsons he met during a concussion summit at The United Nations in New York in January.
"You can't give up on your dream, because that's your life," said the 30-year-old veteran who represented Haiti at the 2004 Olympic Games. "Make sure to get your pens ready, because the story is not even written yet. This is not the end."
Having suffered through depression following two straight losses and a long ring absence due to an injury to his right arm, Berto (28-3, 22 knockouts) returned to training with Virgil Hunter in January after being cleared by doctors.
Berto endured a three-and-a-half-hour surgery in August to repair a ruptured subscapularis (under the shoulder blade) tendon that he suffered during in July's 12th-round stoppage loss to Jesus Soto Karass, whom he dropped in the 11th round. The operation was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who was also involved with the surgery that repaired his ruptured left biceps in February of 2012.
Berto believes that he suffered the injury in the second round and was found to have completely torn the tendon from top to bottom. Nevertheless, he anticipates a return to the ring in the summer.
The loss to Soto Karass was Berto's first by knockout. His other setbacks were by unanimous decision to Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero in April of 2011 and November of 2012, respectively.
In this Q&A with RingTV.com, below, Berto shared how he was inspired by the memory of Mandela, as well as his talks with Ward, who is also trained by Hunter.
RingTV.com: How difficult was the rehab and the time away, being injured?
Andre Berto: Physically, I've been doing very, very intensive rehab for the last few months. It's probably one of the biggest and one of the toughest obstacles that I've had to go through for sure.
To go through the surgery and learning how to re-use my right hand and my right arm all over again. It's been very tough. I'm right in line and everything is coming together pretty well.
I'm getting stronger and I'm pretty much going to be ready in the next month or so when it comes to sparring and it looks like I'll be back in action this summer for sure.
I'm not sparring right now. I have an appointment next week. Hopefully, I'll be able to start sparring in the next five or six weeks. But by fight time, I'm looking at a window of maybe June or July.
RingTV.com: What level of fight do you expect upon your return?
AB: I'm not sure. From what I've seen, as Golden Boy continues to develop its stable, which they should, and then Al Haymon continues to grow his stable, which he should as well, that's great for us, there should be opportunities.
That's something that they told me, as well, especially after this last fight. They always tell me that it doesn't matter, as soon as I get back to it, I'll be right back in the mix.
I don't think that it will be hard at all getting right back into the mix. I think that I think that I just need to make sure that everything from this point is meaningful, and every move that I make from this point is a smart one.
I really expect my first fight back not to be as aggressive as maybe I want it to be, but just a step in the right direction, especially coming back from this shoulder situation.
I want to make sure that I come in smart. But then, after that, man, I'm already feeling good, and I already know me, and I already know my team, and I already know how the people are, and they're automatically going to want to see me go in tougher.
So I think that I'm going to go ahead and make sure that this first fight back is a good one, but maybe not as aggressive as I want, but then, after that, maybe we can go all the way in.
RingTV.com: Will you return as a welterweight or a junior middleweight?
AB: Right now, I'm not sure. It's either going to be 147 or 154. I've had the time to put on a little weight, so I'm not sure. I'm not sure what weight I'm going to come back in at.
Right now, I'm just trying to make sure that I'm good and healthy. I've been working on injuries for the past two years, so this is, like, the first time that I've really taken some time off and been trying to heal everything. So I'm not sure what weight class.
Going to the surgery, and before going through the rehab, I really had to sit on the couch for like a month or two without working out and being able to move around or being able to run.
I got up in weight a good bit, definitely higher than my natural walking around weight. So it will probably be 147, but I'm not going count 154 out.
RingTV.com: Two losses in a row tough to swallow?
AB: Well, to go to tearing a muscle in your arm from the Guerrero fight, where you got thumbs in the eyes and having my eyes close up on me in the second and third round, there's been a lot of things that a lot of us aren't used to going through.
But I went through it under the bright lights. We're in a tough sport, so you can't be like, 'Oh, time out,' or, 'Oh, s–t, I ripped my shoulder,' or, 'Oh, s–t, I took a thumb in the eye, and I can't see.'
In this sport, you have to keep going. So, just going through a lot of these situations, these are situations that I really didn't have too much control over. I feel like I showed a lot of people what I'm about.
RingTV.com: How difficult was it being out of action, mentally?
AB: I'm extremely ambitious. Every since I was a young kid, I've always out-done my classmates, running track, working out, prom king, that was just always me. I've always been one of those overachievers.
Just the fact of being in a position where you really are in a tough situation, like I was just in, going through a fight with pretty much one arm, and then, having a lot of time sitting on the couch, and, with me being a big thinker, everything just plays in your head.
So every day, I've got my computer in front of me, my pen in front of me, and I'm writing down goals, and I'm writing down ideas, and I'm thinking about things that I want to accomplish.
Being in a position where you're at a standstill, you were wondering if your gift was taken from you. At that point, I really felt in my heart that I didn't know if I was going to be able to use my right arm again like I did before.
I got put into a position where I never had been put in before. So a lot of things played into my head. I got really bitter. I was very bitter at the situation.
There was a period of three, four weeks where not a lot of people outside of my family were calling me. Not my team, my promotion, not my management. Not anything. So everything just settled in. It was a tough situation for me.
At the end of the day, I believe that everything that I've done has always been under that spotlight. Everything that I've done has always been under the magnifying glass.
I've gone from being the youngest and the hottest thing out, to situations where I've taken defeats. So I've gone through my tough situations and my falls. But, at the same time, when I think of my career, and of my life, I've always gone the tough route. Always.
Any time I got depressed about a situation, and any time that my spirits were hurting about the situation, I went for a workout. I did long, intense workouts. The rehab and the workouts sort of blocked it out. I went to church as well.
RingTV.com: What role did Ward play in your life at that point?
AB: Of course, me and Andre's relationship goes back to the amateurs when we were 12, 13 years old. So, we've always had a good relationship and a good rapport. So a guy like Andre, for him to call me, he continued to inspire me and continued to give me encouragement.
He actually gave me things to think about because he was in a similar situation. Realistically, Andre is one of the guys who kept me sane the last couple of months right after surgery.
With me sitting at the house, man, of course, being an athlete and being somebody who had gone through a similar situation, Andre was one of the main guys, outside of my family, that called me on a regular basis and talked to me on a regular basis.
Because he went through a similar situation he had surgery on his shoulder, falling into that depressing situation and being bitter and not getting phone calls from friend and feeling like you're forgotten.
Everything kind of resonated with me, so he definitely called me and talked to me and lot and gave me some tips on staying inspired and talked about a lot of things within my game, as well. Things that I can improve on.
I was there in Oakland with him for about a month, and we talked a lot about improving my game. I did a lot of pad work with Virgil, and me and Andre worked out a lot together. It was a lot about technique, and that was beneficial for me.
RingTV.com: Can you discuss your experience with meeting Mandela's family members?
AB: I've gotten a chance to appreciate Nelson Mandela during the last month or so, and I got to meet his grand kids and to see a lot of things that he's been through.
Nowadays, it's like our state of mind is so much weaker than what it should be. When you go through tough times in life, people count you out, or you may count yourself out because you have four or five losses.
When you see a guy like Nelson Mandela spend all of that time in prison, and still have that hope, and still have that spirit of being great, to come out and to become president, that's the type of cloth that I come from.
RingTV.com: Are you tougher, mentally?
AB: Where I'm at now, I had a chance to learn a lot about myself within the last few months sitting alone, because sometimes, that's what it takes.
For you to get put into a situation where you're alone and you have to walk in the dark for a while to really understand the gift that God has given you, and that you can never take it for granted.
The fact that I'm able to come back and to feel good, and that my arm is feeling great, and me feeling awesome, physically, and to come through what I went through, being where I'm at now, I'm at a strong mental state. I just feel like I'm a better man.
I feel as though I'm a better person, in general. I'm feeling like I'm more whole. So if I get that chance again to take that platform of being one of the top welterweights, it's going to be a completely different story on how I handle it and how I approach it for sure.
I'm not going to give up my career because of one night. That's not where I come from. I come from a background of being resilient and athletic and hard-working. So when you write my story, at the end of the day, it's going to be dramatic.
You're going to see the rise and you're going to see the falls. They're going to see me come back and triumph from it, and that's what it's about. Everything that I come back and accomplish, from this point on, it will be everything that I deserve. Everything.
Nothing was given. Everybody has had a chance to see everything that I've gone through, and everybody has had a chance to see my heart, and they've seen me rise out of tragic situations.
You can't never give up on your dream, because that's your life. Make sure to get your pens ready, because the story is not even written yet. This is not the end.