“I’m praying for a wild card,” Mary Spencer said recently in an interview with the Toronto Star after being eliminated from the Olympic qualifying boxing tourney. “The only thing better than winning Olympic gold would be winning gold after qualifying via wild card.”
And that is exactly the position that Spencer, a three-time world champion and five-time Pan-American champion boxer, currently finds herself in at the London Olympics, after being selected as a wild card by the International Olympic Committee, and receiving a favourable draw that puts the 27-year-old Ojibwa from the Cape Croker First Nation in Ontario just one victory away from a medal at the 2012 Games.
Indeed, Spencer, as the sole Aboriginal on Canada’s Olympic team, must now be considered a favourite to win gold in the 75-kilogram middleweight weight class.
“It’s like a second chance and it reminds me of when I first started boxing, I felt like I was given a second chance and I was able to prove myself through boxing,” Spencer told the Star.
“And now I feel like I’m in that position once again. I never expected to be but I feel like I am and I can’t wait to really make the most and the best of the situation.”
There are 12 boxers in each of the women’s boxing weight classes. By virtue of the random draw, Spencer received a bye through the first round, allowing the eight-time Canadian champ to rest up in anticipation of her fight against the winner of the first round match-up between 2010 World Champion Roseli Feitosa of Brazil and the 2008 World Champ and defending Asian Champion, Jinzi Li of China.
“I’m completely ready,” Spencer told Yahoo! Sports. “I was just telling my coaches that I feel like the timing is perfect. I’m feeling that peak and I’m looking forward to fighting.”
While Spencer recently signed a lucrative endorsement deal with cosmetics giant CoverGirl, and has been as much of a knockout on magazine covers as she has been in the ring, the former high school basketball star avoided the media spotlight in recent weeks as she prepared for her Olympic moment. That meant shunning Olympic training facilities, instead making her final preparations at a small, non-descript boxing gym tucked away on a London street corner called Rooney’s – the gym of choice for a number of notable British boxers, past and present.
“The set-up has been awesome,” Spencer told Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun. “Training in a spot like this reminds us that it’s just boxing.
“We don’t feel like we’re at the Olympics. We’re just in a crummy gym and it’s just real comfortable. It feels like we’re at home.”
Along with the support of boxing fans from across Canada, Spencer can also count on the support of recently re-elected Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, who congratulated Spencer on her Olympic berth and was quick to point out the important work that Spencer continues to do in First Nation communities across the country.
“I commend Mary Spencer’s determination and dedication to sport and fitness, which has helped her achieve incredible success in achieving her goals both in and outside the boxing ring,” said Atleo.
“Adding to the list of other Indigenous Olympians committed to inspiring and motivating young people, Mary enthusiastically spends time in First Nation communities meeting with youth to discuss the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in achieving goals. Mary is a true role model for all young people, particularly young Indigenous women.”
In addition to her time spent in the ring, Spencer is also a Gen7 messenger, encouraging Aboriginal youth to live an active and healthy lifestyle through sport and physical activity. She also earned a spot on the list of the 20 Most Influential Women in Sport and Physical Activity for 2011 by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS).