Franchon Crews was confused as she looked around the University of Maryland Medical Center's URecFit gym. The middleweight boxer was looking for her training partner, Glenn Dezurn Jr., who had gone to the bathroom without her noticing.
"Where is my husband?" said Crews, who had thought Dezurn was beside her as she walked toward the gym's boxing area. "I don't understand him sometimes."
It was the only time Crews referred to him as her husband during the gym session. Though they have been married for nearly two years, their relationship transforms during workouts.
When Dezurn returned, he told Crews to begin shadowboxing and observed her technique. After that, he put on his punching mitts. Crews strapped on her gloves and started pounding Dezurn's hands with a flurry of jabs and hooks that gradually became faster and more complex.
As Dezurn prepared Crews this month for her bout against Canadian middleweight Mary Spencer in Thursday's Battle of the Border in Montreal, the two went from spouses to work associates.
"It's no husband and wife. … It's business," said Dezurn, 26, a professional in the bantamweight division. "I want you to perform. I want you to win. I want you to come out on top."
Crews, a 27-year-old fitness assistant at URecFit, has a similar attitude when she helps train Dezurn for his fights, and their relationship as training partners has had positive results.
Dezurn fought his first professional bout last July, and he is now 4-0 with three knockouts. Crews, who calls herself "The Heavy-Hitting Diva," earned a silver medal in the USA Boxing Elite National Championships in January and hopes to earn a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
For Crews and Dezurn, the attention they devote to each other's boxing career makes the transition from wife and husband to training partners easy.
"I know he's not going to tell me anything that's going to be detrimental to myself or my career, and vice versa," Crews said. "We just have honesty."
Crews and Dezurn didn't become partners the instant they met at the UMAR Boxing gym in Baltimore more than seven years ago, but they saw each other frequently during their separate training sessions.
"He will tell you things about me that I didn't know because he was always there," Crews said.
When Dezurn first met Crews, she was already a national powerhouse. She had won three U.S. national championships, and she would win two more national titles before the 2012 Olympic trials. Dezurn, who didn't qualify for the men's trials, was part of the group that helped Crews train for the competition.
Though Crews was the top-seeded middleweight in the field, she recalled feeling "abandoned" and "overwhelmed" during that period of her career.
Her coaches at the time weren't fully committed to helping her train, Crews said, and her confidence suffered. During those struggles, Dezurn was there for Crews when the coaches weren't.
"When I needed to cut weight or when I needed to get that extra quality time in the gym, they weren't there," Crews said. "He stuck with me like white on rice through the whole ordeal."
She was eliminated at the trials, capping what she calls "the worst experience" of her boxing career. But Crews and Dezurn also remember it as the start of a life-changing relationship in and out of the ring.
"You will make the Olympics," Dezurn said to Crews after her elimination. "I don't care what nobody says. You will make it."
Roughly three months after her elimination, Crews earned a silver medal in the light heavyweight division of the International Boxing Association Women's World Boxing Championships. In 2013, she went back to middleweight, winning a gold medal in the national championships.
Dezurn said helping Crews regain her confidence helped them build a level of mutual trust. — and a bond that led to their marriage.
"Helping her as a teammate, it built a good friendship," Dezurn said. "When you're in camp with somebody, helping them work … [by] putting in the hard work with them, you're going to build a chemistry with them."
In addition to the training Crews and Dezurn did together at URecFit, the pair began working with new coaches at Alexandria Boxing Club in Virginia when Dezurn turned professional.
The two would visit the club as many as five times some weeks to work with the coaches. But they also would train with each other, the way they used to leading up to Crews' appearance in the Olympic trials.
Ron Simms, one of Dezurn and Crews' three coaches in Alexandria, said he never had seen a married couple train together.
"They understand how to communicate with one another to get what they have to get out of each other," Simms said. "It's very interesting."
Though the couple has been coming to the boxing club for over a year now, seeing Dezurn criticize Crews for a mistake, only for the roles to reverse a couple of weeks later, still fascinates Simms.
"It's funny how they can change positions," he said. "One can be the coach and one can be the student, and they just alternate depending on who's up to box."
It's part of their relationship as training partners. But once the gloves are off, Crews still will think of Dezurn as her "guardian angel," and he won't hesitate to talk about their great chemistry as a couple.
"We got experience with this," Dezurn said. "Once you have the experience of how to be professional … it shouldn't be a problem turning it on and off when it comes time for it."
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