Coated in enough sweat to render his T-shirt see-through, Peter Quillin looks into the camera and issues a challenge that a young woman 2,500 miles away will soon accept.
It’s early March in Santa Monica, California, and Peter Quillin is in the gym, working out in front of a sign that reads “Never never never give up,” when he makes a video announcing a self-improvement competition that he’s launching.
Quillin’s fond of moments like these: He comes from a hard background, was even homeless for a time and likes to try to motivate others to improve their position in life, just as he did.
His contest works like this: the individual with the most impressive personal transformation story wins tickets to Quillin’s upcoming fight with Andy Lee on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, as well as a signed boxing glove.
Ashli LeSure, a 24-year-old Quillin fan who lives in New York City, learns about the contest from Quillin’s Instagram page, but is hesitant to enter.
“At first, I wasn’t going to do it,” LeSure says, acknowledging her initial uncertainty.
Ultimately, though, LeSure responded—and not just for herself.
A mother of two boys, LeSure had children at a young age.
She walked across the stage of her high school graduation nine months pregnant with her second son.
Because of this, she wasn’t able to focus on her education to the extent that she would have liked.
Not long ago, however, LeSure began to change all that, enrolling in college with the goal of one day becoming an eighth-grade math teacher.
She’s in her third semester now, with a GPA approaching 4.0.
Because of her efforts, she was selected as the winner of Quillin’s contest.
When LeSure found out she won, she couldn’t wait to share the news with the man who was a main reason why she entered in the first place: her father.
A U.S. Army veteran of 27 years, he introduced his daughter to boxing when she was a kid.
“I realized how big of an influence he was on my transformation from then to now, so that’s why I wanted to incorporate him into it,” LeSure says. “He inspired me to go back to school.”
How did her father react when he learned the news?
Well, it was the upcoming fight card’s first knockout.
“He was surprisingly emotional,” LeSure says, sounding as proud of that moment as she is of the accomplishments that made it happen. “He just kept saying ‘Wow!’”