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Wife, boxer's biggest fan, helped keep him fighting


Tracey Sturm's 5-foot-1, 120-pound body struggled to squeeze through a wave of enthusiastic boxing fans.

Her husband of five years, Chuck, had just emerged from the ring after winning a bruising unanimous decision over Ohio's Tony Ruthledge.

It was Sturm's comeback fight after a 19-month layoff due to an eye injury, and his first appearance in the county in three years.

The post-fight chaos could have been ripped straight from the script of a Rocky movie -- only it happened Thursday night in Glen Burnie's Michael's Eighth Avenue -- as the nearly 600 partisan fans showered their love on Sturm, a Millersville native.

Unlike the bloody-faced Rocky Balboa, who battled through the crowd to embrace his wife, Adrian, Sturm barely managed the obligatory kiss before disappearing into the overwhelming throng.

"It was hard to get to her because we were being pulled in all different directions," said Sturm (24-3-1), whose post-fight interviews kept them apart for another 30 minutes.

Yet Tracey Sturm is her husband's biggest and most supportive fan.

When injuries stalled Sturm's career and prevented him from working his physically demanding trucking job, Tracey, a business major at the University of Baltimore, quit school twice -- once in the middle of the semester -- to support them.

The Sturms recently closed the deal on a new house and plan to start a family. For now, however, Tracey is focusing completing her education and assisting her husband's title pursuit.

Chuck trained steadily during his break from the ring, encouraged by Tracey, who often ran alongside him. She also designed a no-fat diet for Chuck, helping him slim down to 132 pounds for Ruthledge -- his first fight since November 1990.

"I think he took some shots unnecessarily, but then I always ask myself why he lets himself get hit so much," said Tracey, who considers herself "safety-conscious," carrying mace and wearing her seat belt "at all times."

"I was a little worried because I think he looked a little stale, and the other guy [Ruthledge] looked pretty sharp. But that's expected after Chuck's layoff, so he looked pretty good."

Tracey wanted to look her best Thursday night as the wife of the main attraction. Wearing white gloves and a matching tassled jumpsuit, Tracey videotaped the fight from a distant table, where she sat with Chuck Sr., Chuck's brother, Mike and sister Lisa.

"I couldn't have done it without her," Chuck Sturm said of his wife. "She's given me five good years of her life."

Unlike the unquestioning Adrian, who followed her man with canine-like loyalty, there are points Tracey won't go beyond.

"He had his boxing dreams the first year we were married, but I've told him I'm not going to sit back and keep putting my career on hold," said Tracey, who met Sturm at Sandy Point beach in 1986.

"He was very quiet, not much of a talker and he didn't brag about himself. I just felt real comfortable around him. I dated him for three weeks before I even knew he was a boxer."

While it is Chuck's profession to batter opponents before large crowds, Tracey insists, "Chuck's the introvert and I'm the extrovert. I guess opposites attract."

K? Like her husband, "the Pit Bull," whose perpetual motion of

ten baffles opponents, Tracey is constantly on the move.

The junior at the University of Baltimore is vice president of the business club, maintains a "B" average and is 45 credits shy of her BA degree. A class of Sunday school second-graders, taught by Tracey at Glen Burnie's St. Albans Episcopalian Church, recently graduated.

Tracey's clean-living lifestyle is a complement to Chuck's. She doesn't smoke and rarely drinks, although it took three beers to calm her nerves Thursday night.

She still runs three miles a day, lifts weights three to four times a week, and frequently uses the Stairmaster and Nordic Track, a machine that simulates skiing.

"I don't feel 29 -- I feel more like I'm 21," says Tracey, who was born in Baltimore and was a softball pitcher and outfielder while attending Glen Burnie High.

"Chuck is always encouraging me to work out, and I'm glad because I don't think I could be married to someone who just wants to lay around all day."

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