(CNN) -- Most people don't go through life without hitting a few bumps along the way. For Lamont Peterson, that's putting it mildly.
Peterson, 28, is sitting on top of the boxing world right now. In December, he won the light welterweight championship of the world, an achievement that was 18 years in the making.
"I feel blessed just to be here in this spot," he said. "It could have been many other places I could've been."
Peterson is one of 12 siblings. Growing up in Washington, things were going well until their father went to prison on a drug offense. They lost their home, and shortly thereafter their mother abandoned them, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Lamont was 10 years old at the time.
Some of the siblings latched on with friends. But Lamont and his younger brother, Anthony, were on their own. At times they had no place to stay and were forced to sleep on park benches, in abandoned cars and at a local Greyhound bus station. Sometimes they just walked the streets, waiting for the sun to come up.
"You'd play with your friends and you'd have fun all day, and then you knew at the end of the day, once it got to a certain time, your friends were going to go home. They'd be in their beds, warm, and you knew that you wasn't," said Peterson.
And Lamont had to look after Anthony, who was two years his junior. That situation became even more stressful when other city kids challenged them.
"He'd have to fight for me because I was so small," said the younger Peterson. "I guess that's how he got his fighting skills going and protecting me."
A few months later, the Peterson boys met boxing trainer Barry Hunter, and it changed their lives.
"They were just coming out of the shelter," said Hunter. "I met Lamont and brought him to the gym, and I brought Anthony the next time. We've been together ever since."
That was 18 years ago. Hunter took them in and gave the boys more than just boxing lessons; he gave them life lessons.
"Those are my boys, man, I can't say nothing bad about them. I'm totally proud of 'em," said Hunter.
Last December, the discipline and work ethic Hunter instilled in the boys resulted in Lamont winning the light welterweight world championship.
"It's something I've been working for a long time," said Peterson. "Eighteen years now ... all the hard work paying off is just a great feeling."
It was a hard-fought bout with then-champion Amir Khan of the United Kingdom, a close match that some think could have gone either way. A rematch is in the works.
But for now Peterson holds the title -- which also means a seven-figure payday.
That kind of money is especially meaningful for a person who once slept on the streets, and is now the father of a 3-year-old girl.
"It's a great feeling to know that ... my daughter... she'll be OK, said Peterson. "As long as I do right by, you know, the money that I earn, that she'll be OK. She'll never have to see those days."
Despite his success, Peterson said, he'll never forget what happened when he was a child. He's proof that it's never over unless you give up.
"Just because you're dealt a bad hand don't mean you're going to lose. You can always change it around," he said.