Kent Brown of Winnipeg Elite Boxing MMA Academy stands with Olympic boxer Mary Spencer. Spencer was in Winnipeg in October to lead boxing clinics. – Lisa Williams
After several rounds of sparring, Mary Spencer steps out of the ring at Winnipeg Elite Boxing MMA Academy and it’s immediately apparent she’s quick to make friends with her approachable personality and infectious laugh.
“I was 17 when I began boxing,” she explains. “I saw something that would be a lot of fun and I was immediately passionate about it, so I stuck with it.”
Fast forward 10 years and Spencer is now an Olympian. This past 2012 Summer Olympics in London saw the introduction of women’s boxing, making Spencer the first Canadian woman to box in the Olympics.
While Spencer ultimately fell to Chinese boxer Li Jinzi in a quarter-final fight, she says it was an unforgettable opportunity.
“It was a crazy experience,” says Spencer, who turns 28 next month. “There’s no way of preparing for it because it’s the first, and it’s not just the first for me, it’s the first for all women boxers. So it’s not even like I can ask a teammate that’s been in that position (before). I couldn’t talk to anybody else because it was the first for everybody, so it was really neat. We had no idea what to expect.”
Despite a tough loss, Spencer plans to continue training with goals for competing in the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Talk of the Olympics quickly turns to friends and family, whom she feels she neglected while preparing for the Games.
“I try to spend a lot more time with my family, and I spend a lot of time with friends,” she says. “It’s been a couple months of playing catch up.”
An Ojibway from Cape Croker First Nation in Ontario, Spencer also stays connected with the youth in her community and other First Nations communities across Canada. She helps out with boys’ and girls’ clubs, as well as an after school program where youth come to get help with their homework.
Spencer hopes to open a boxing club in Cape Croker First Nation some time in the future. She describes her interest in helping the community as paying it forward.
“I can’t sit here and tell you that I got to where I am because of the work that I put in alone,” she says. “I got here because there have been people in my life who have encouraged me, helped me,
who have taught me, and there’s no way I can pay those people back. All you can do is pay it forward and be that person for somebody else.”
With her training schedule scaled back for the time being, Spencer is able to reconnect with friends and family, and get down to what she really enjoys other than boxing: drinking tea.
“I drink tea with my friends, and I know this sounds crazy, but we drink tea for six hours straight,” she says with a laugh.
Boxing goals aside, Spencer has set her sights on expanding her musical talents.
“I like to play music. I mean, I’m not really good at playing music, but I like to get together with friends and play songs,” she explains.
“I play the keyboard and guitar, and my mom’s going to teach me the accordion, whenever I can get the time to learn.”