A No-Limits Quest for Gold in Women's Boxing

How Much Ground Can Mary Spencer Break?

5 am: Wake up. 6 am: Get to boxing club. Run 5 km. At gym, work on technical fine points while sparring others. Then hit the bags for some traditional work. 8:30 am: Grab a dry set of clothes and a bite to eat. 9 am: Head to friend’s gym/garage for a P90 core workout. 10 am: Go home, take a nap, relax.

1:30 pm: At fitness club, work with strength and conditioning coach for 60 minutes. Grab a meal at the gym. 4:30 pm: Time for hard sparring with a male boxer who is bigger and more skilled. Where you get your “butt kicked.” 5:30 pm: Leave gym, hit the chiropractic, get a massage perhaps, eat. 10:00 pm: Bed time.

“A full day but a fun day,” said Mary Spencer.

She is a three-time world champion boxer, most recently this fall when she soundly defeated the reigning world champion in the final. She has high aspirations for London as women’s boxing makes its debut in 2012.

Mary Spencer was made to box. Those are her words. She fit perfectly into a sport that required a killer instinct but a calm demeanour. An ability to give a punch, but also take one. To have excellent reflexes and an ideal body frame. The intense physical and mental sides of boxing spoke to her. As soon as she started, it “blew her mind” how much she fit into the sport.

And: “The very first day that I boxed at a club, I wanted to be Canadian champion.”

Well before then, she loved basketball. In grade four, her competitiveness bloomed on the hard court. “People who knew me, it was like Mary and her basketball. I took it everywhere, I slept with it at night.”

At the age of 17, she followed a different path. It began the day she walked into a boxing club. “A lot of people probably thought: Well, Mary is learning how to box so she can beat people up,” Spencer laughed.

Now, it is 115 fights later. Coach Charlie Stewart has been by her side the entire time, a veteran who has instructed Olympians and national champions from the Windsor Boxing Club where Spencer trains. With his strategic advice, and Spencer’s raw talent, she climbed the ladder quickly. In 2004 she captured her first Canadian title – and she has not relinquished it since. In 2005 and 2008, she won world titles in her weight class. She has four times been named Canadian women’s boxer of the year.

Not that she dwells on this much. “What goes through my mind is: what’s coming up next,” Spencer said. “I try to keep my focus and my head right for maintaining the goal of an Olympic gold medal.”

And there it is, the ultimate goal she keeps front and centre. That it could occur at the Olympic debut of women’s boxing is, to Spencer, profound. “I’d rather go and win at the very first Olympics with women’s boxing than the next three,” she said.

Along her journey, Spencer has found something else quite rewarding: being a role model for others. She is with the Boys and Girls Club of Windsor and participates in GEN7, encouraging Aboriginal youth to live an active, healthy lifestyle and instilling leadership skills.

In fact, that aspect has helped motivate her in the ring. At the recent World Championships she went into the final fight (75 kg) against the world champion and thought it would be tough to win. But she thought about the kids she was about to speak to back home a few weeks later – she didn’t want to talk to them as a “former” world champion. She knew she’d have greater impact carrying with her the gold medal.

And that’s just what she did, showing overwhelming skill in the final for a 14-2 victory.

Asked what she would tell young athletes just getting started, Spencer said: “The most important thing is not to put limits on what you can accomplish.”

She is proof that thinking big doesn’t just mean dreaming.