There’s a built-in bravado to boxing, an expectation that the battle inside the ring will be matched with an equally vicious verbal slugfest outside it. Three-time world champion and Olympic gold medal favourite Mary Spencer isn’t interested in any of that. She’s an introvert, a homebody who would rather write down her thoughts than broadcast them. And she’s nothing if not prolific: Her desk is stuffed with over 20 notepads, each filled to the margins with inspirational quotes, motivational memos-to-self and career goals. A recent entry: beat Ariane.
In January, she faced her former best friend, roommate and training partner, Ariane Fortin – one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world – for the right to represent Canada at the Olympics in the 75-kilogram weight class. It’s the first time that women’s boxing will be part of the program.
Spencer won 18-12 in a riveting effort, crushing her friend’s dream to achieve her own. Spencer had no mixed feelings about it. “When you look across the ring, you know that your opponent could kill you, hurt you or knock you out, and they’ll take that opportunity,” she says. “Until that final bell rings, it’s you or them.”
After the fight, Fortin lashed out in the media, accusing the judges of bias. Spencer refused to take the bait. Instead she complimented Fortin and acknowledged how frustrated she must be to miss out on London. Their relationship has since suffered – the regular phone conversations have ceased – but Spencer is hopeful they’ll be able to patch things up.
For now, she’s focused on training. Her day starts at 5 a.m. with a wake-up call from her long-time coach, Charlie Stewart, who says the same thing every time: “See you at six.” By 6:10, Spencer is darting through the streets of downtown Windsor, Ont., on her seven-kilometre warm-up run. Then it’s a blur of wind sprints, shadowboxing and plyometrics, a pause for a nap and lunch, and a sparring session with Jason Hurst, a former Team Canada light heavyweight. “He kicks my butt half the time, but it’s not so bad. If he’s tired, it might go my way,” Spencer says. Her third workout of the day usually includes a strength routine, bag work and drills to improve her movement in the ring. Sometimes Stewart throws three fighters at her, one at a time. Each switches off as fatigue sets in, but Spencer is afforded no such luxury.
Some nights, Spencer gets a massage after dinner. Otherwise, by 7:30 p.m. at the latest, she’s back at the house she shares with three friends, two of them boxers. There’s not much time left before bed, so Spencer likes to read a book or flop in front of the TV. Her other method of unwinding isn’t quite so orthodox: “I enjoy cleaning to relax,” she says. When asked if she’s implying that her roommates are messy, she hesitates then says: “I shouldn’t say” – suggesting that her policy of refraining from trash talk extends into the home, as well.
Quick fact: The International Boxing Association toyed with the notion of making skirts mandatory for female boxers in London to distinguish them from the men. The proposal was kiboshed-it seems officials didn’t want to face off against a bunch of really angry lady pugilists.
When to watch: Sunday, August 5, at 10:30 am EST
Q & A: Mary Spencer
Rocky or Apollo Creed: Rocky
Pump-up song: Enya’s “Sadness”
Killer combo: Jab, right hand to the head, left hook to the body
If she wasn’t a boxer, she’d be: In the army
Favourite TV show: Big Bang Theory
Guilty pleasure: Oh Henry! chocolate bar
Tattoos: Feather on ankle and Celtic knot on shoulder blade
Away from the ring, her friends would say she’s: Quiet
(Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)