PORTLAND, Maine — Jayson Richter qualifies as a goal-oriented person by almost any standard.
He was a freshman at Brewer High School on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon, with yet another plane ultimately crashing into a field near Shanksville, Pa.
It was a morning that shaped his future.
“I was in my introductory science class when the towers got hit, and it was then I knew I wanted to give something back,” said Richter.
So he enlisted in the Marines while still a senior at Brewer, and subsequently was on active duty from 2005 to 2009 — including two seven-month tours in Iraq, the first starting in July 2006 and the second running from late 2007 to early 2008.
“The first time I was in Iraq was probably the most violent time of the war,” said Richter, who served as a squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Liam Company, an infantry unit based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “We were on the outskirts of Fallujah, and it was pretty tough out there.
“By the time I went back to Iraq you could start to see a difference there, it was a little more secure.”
Hardened by those experiences, Richter is back in Maine these days with new goals that are different but still ambitious.
The 25-year-old Richter currently is studying pre-med at the University of Southern Maine, and he’s also an aspiring boxer who recently was crowned the New England Golden Gloves champion in the novice welterweight division.
“It’s kind of a family thing,” said the 5-foot-9-inch, 152-pound Richter, who played football and hockey at Brewer High School before graduating in 2005. “My dad [Phil] was a Golden Gloves boxer, and my uncle [Greg] also boxed, but when I was in high school there was really no place to do it.
“Then when I got toward the end of my active duty, they let me have a TAD [temporary assigned duty] with the All-Marine [Boxing] Team at Camp Lejeune. I didn’t have any bouts there, but that’s where I got started,” said Richter, who remains on inactive duty status with the Marines as he completes his eight-year enlistment commitment.
When Richter completed his active-duty commitment he returned home and enrolled at the University of Maine, where he spent a year before transferring to USM for the fall semester in 2010.
And with his interest in boxing still piqued, he came in contact with Bobby Russo, who owns the Portland Boxing Club. Richter soon began training at Russo’s facility and went on to participate in his first major competition at the 2011 Northern New England Regional Golden Gloves tournament at Burlington, Vt., where he lost in the semifinals.
But with an additional year of training behind him, Richter returned to Golden Gloves competition early this year and not only won the Northern New England title, but two weeks later overcame a first-round knockdown to defeat Kevin Weeks of Raynham, Mass., by a 3-2 split decision in the New England championship match held at the Lowell (Mass.) Memorial Auditorium.
“It was the first time I’d ever gotten a standing eight count,” said Richter, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding novice boxer. “I kind of got a little angry, which is something you really don’t want to do when you’re boxing, but I came out and threw a couple of left hooks and I was able to go on and win the match.”
That title fight marked the end of a grueling schedule of five bouts in as many weekends for Richter, with each bout consisting of three two-minute rounds.
“You spar on Monday and Wednesday, work in the gym two or three days a week and then fight on Saturday night,” he said. “You just get used to that routine of workout and recovery.”
For three straight weeks Richter trekked with Russo to Burlington, Vt., where he won all three of his bouts to earn the Northern New England Golden Gloves crown and qualify for the New England semifinals in Lowell, Mass.
“It was a lot, five weeks in a row,” Richter said. “A lot of guys would get a bye or have someone back out of a bout along the way and get a week off. I think I was the only guy who had to fight every weekend, and I had school on top of that.
“But I’d just take my chemistry book along on the trips to Burlington, because that’s a pretty long drive.”
Those three victories advanced Richter to a semifinal bout against Jonathan Figueroa of Hartford, Conn. Richter got off to a fast start in the matchup, then used his old-school boxing style to battle Figueroa evenly over the final two rounds to win by a 4-1 split decision and earn his return trip to Lowell for the title match.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a brawler, but I like to throw a lot of body punches and uppercuts,” Richter said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a volume puncher, but I like to work to the body a lot to get the guy’s arms going up and down and then come with the uppercuts.”
Richter, 10-2 in his boxing career, plans to compete in a couple of shows around New England during the coming year. That will lead up to November’s New England regional championships in Portland and then a return to Golden Gloves competition next winter.
“He’s the whole package as a person and boxer,” Russo said to the Lowell (Mass.) Sun after Richter’s win over Figueroa. “He saw a lot of action in Iraq. He’s one of the nicest kids you will ever meet. He’s awesome. His whole family is great. With his Marine background his whole attitude is, ‘Yes, coach, and no, coach.’
“He does whatever you tell him. He’s a great kid and very smart. He’s a real gentleman.”
Richter also is on track to graduate from USM in the spring of 2013 with plans to eventually work in emergency medicine.
“I don’t know quite what I want to do with boxing,” he said. “I want to get into medical school and become a doctor, but I’d like to stay with boxing, too. I’ve got awesome coaches, they’re really into the dedication, discipline and conditioning that’s required for the sport and the respect you have to have for the sport. I like being around that.”
The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Jayson Richter as a former Marine. Richter is still on inactive duty status with the Marines as he completes his eight-year enlistment commitment.