ROCK ALLEN WAS apologizing for a situation not of his making and one that for the foreseeable future he is powerless to change.
"I hate for you to see me like this," the former Olympic boxer told an acquaintance of long standing who was seeing him for the first time since the horrific automobile accident the evening of June 7 that left him on the verge of death. By "this," Allen meant the wheelchair in which he remains confined as he rehabs from a lengthy list of injuries that quite likely would have killed someone who had not been in such superb physical condition.
"They said I had a bad head injury," Allen, 30, said as he and a large group of family members gathered for dinner earlier this week at a restaurant on City Line Avenue. "They told me both my legs were broken, my right leg in two different places. I had a lower broken spine, broken ribs. Pretty much everything below my chest was damaged or broken."
Allen's mother, Sister Aya Allen, said Rock had undergone "about a dozen surgeries," with more to follow.
"The [attending surgeon the night Rock was airlifted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania] asked, 'Is your son an athlete?' " said Allen's father, Brother Naazim Richardson, who perhaps is best known these days as the trainer of such renowned professionals as Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham. "I said, 'Yes, he's a boxer.' The doctor told me Rock might not still be with us if he weren't."
Much of what happened that fateful night has been erased from Rock's memory. He was a passenger in a 1996 Ford Explorer driven by his identical twin brother, Tiger Allen, who was taking him to a meeting with his girlfriend.
"I know I was going to go out with her," Rock recalled. "I remember looking out the window. Some slow music was playing, so that had me thinking about her. Then . . . blank.
"The next time I opened my eyes, I was in a hospital and a lot of time had gone by. Maybe it was a month, maybe it was longer than that.
"You know what's funny? When I did wake up, I don't think I could even talk, but I was still thinking of my girlfriend. I was confused. I thought maybe I was at her house or something. Was she OK? Did something happen to her, too? I tried to look around, which I really couldn't do [because his neck was immobilized], to see where she was. I know that must sound crazy."
What had happened, according to police reports, is that the Explorer veered out of the right lane of Bethlehem Pike in Montgomery Township and struck a tree, leaving Rock and Tiger pinned in the wreckage.
Tiger, whose injuries were not as critical, was airlifted to Hahnemann University Hospital, where he spent 3 weeks before being released, whereas Rock was hospitalized for more than 3 months. Father of a young son, A.J., Tiger has resumed his regular life, which for several years now has not included boxing. A child prodigy as was Rock, Tiger also won numerous local, state and national amateur championships, but the last of his three professional bouts, as a cruiserweight, took place in 2008. Although he never issued a statement to that effect, for all practical purposes he is retired from the ring.
For Rock, however, the pugilistic dreams that drove him when he was a local celebrity as a 9-year-old, cranking out a thousand push-ups at a time alongside Tiger, have not yet been fully realized.
What Rock wants is to recondition himself to a point where he can resume his professional boxing career, in which he has fashioned a 15-0 record with seven victories inside the distance. But given his age, the damage to his body and the fact he has not had a fight since April 10, 2009, is it prudent to believe he can pull off a comeback? Is it even advisable for him to try?
His parents would prefer that he join Tiger in the ranks of former prizefighters, but they realize that choice is not theirs to make.
"It worries me a lot," Sister Aya said of Rock's vision of what the future will bring. "I do not want him to continue in boxing. But Rock is an adult, and if he chooses to do that, it's his decision."
Brother Naazim, who has trained his sons all their lives, said he likely would have to recuse himself from any comeback by Rock.
"Nobody can put limits on you, except God," he said. "Vinny Pazienza [who resumed his boxing career after a similarly catastrophic car crash] is proof of that.
"But if Rock does box again, I probably won't be involved. I'd be a hindrance to him. If I saw him take a body shot, I'd probably throw in the towel."
Rock, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Athens, Greece, said it is still his goal to win a world title and to approximate as a pro the success he had as an amateur boxing legend. He is well aware that the familiar opponent he beat out for the 141-pound berth on the '04 Olympic team, Lamont Peterson (29-1-1, 15 KOs), is challenging WBA/IBF junior welterweight champion Amir Khan (26-1, 18 KOs) tomorrow night in Washington, a bout that will be televised by HBO.
"I beat Lamont four out of five in the amateurs, and I think I won the one time they gave it to him," Rock says. "So, in my mind, I'm 5-0 against him.
"It hurts in a way that he's where he is and I'm not, but I'm happy for him. He's doing something positive. He's fighting for a world championship. God bless him. I wish it were me."
And maybe it will be, someday.
"I put everything in God's hands," he said. "I have no choice but to be patient. I'm still a young man. There's a lot of things I want to do, but right now my body won't allow me to.
"It's hard dealing with reality at times. Maybe this is God's way of slowing me down, of saying, 'Hey, be still for a while.' "
And the girlfriend he was in such a hurry to see that fateful June night?
"We're not together anymore," Rock said. "It's sad. I still think about her. Maybe when I get better . . . "