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Ojibwe Woman Part of Inaugural Women's Olympic Boxing

At any time of the day one might find Mary Spencer shadow-boxing and then pumping her arms in the air. “I do it constantly,” said Spencer, a 26-year-old aboriginal boxer who lives in Tecumseh, a suburb of Windsor, Ontario. “I’m pretending I just won a gold medal.”

By next summer, Spencer, an Ojibwe originally from the Cape Croker First Nation near Wiarton, Ontario may not have to pretend any more, because she is picked to win a medal—possibly even a gold—when women’s boxing makes its Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games. Spencer already has a rather impressive résumé: She has won three world championships and is the defending International Amateur Boxing Association women’s world champion in the 75-kilogram (165 pounds) division. She won a pair of world crowns in the 66-kilogram division, in Russia in 2005 and in China in 2008, but decided to put on some weight when the International Olympic Committee added just three weight classes—51, 60 and 75 kilograms—at the London Olympics.

Spencer also won a silver medal at a Pan American Games qualifying tournament in Venezuela in late March, which earned her a spot at the Pan American Games, which will be staged in Guadalajara, Mexico this October. Women’s boxing will make its Pan American debut at those Games.

She started boxing back in 2002 at the age of 17 but had been enthralled by the sport for years. “I thought about boxing when I was 12 years old,” she said. “I thought it was cool, but I wasn’t allowed to do it.” Instead, the very athletic Spencer was a star on her high school basketball, soccer and volleyball teams.

When she was a bit older she decided to try boxing, in part because she wanted to join a friend who was taking it up to lose weight.

Charlie Stewart, a coach at the Windsor Amateur Boxing Club who has worked with Spencer since she started in the sport, said, “I saw she was a tall lady with a long reach.” (She’s just under six feet tall.) “I hadn’t worked with a lot of women in boxing but I was interested. I saw she had natural ability.” Stewart, 69, has some impressive credentials himself. He’s coached boxers at the last three summer Olympics, and believes he’ll be joining Spencer in London next year. “Her chances of winning the gold are excellent,” he said. “I don’t want to be too cocky, but she’s probably one of the best [female] boxers I’ve seen.”

Stewart saw Spencer’s dedication immediately when she started attending his early-morning workouts, usually at six a.m. but sometimes earlier, without complaint. “If the fighters were interested, I knew they’d get up at that time,” he said. “Mary is a very smart person. She understood very quickly I know what I’m talking about. You don’t get to the Olympics just by wanting to go.”

Spencer’s father, Cliff, is now one of her biggest boxing supporters but he wasn’t too keen on the sport when Mary, the fourth of his five children, told him that she wanted to try boxing. “I told her to get into something else,” he said. “I discouraged it. I told her this ain’t for girls. But she liked it.”

Stewart was able to convince Cliff that his daughter had plenty of potential, in large part because of her ability to throw impressive punches with either hand. It didn’t take long for her to start making a name for herself in boxing. She won her first fight, just five months after she started training, and captured her first Ontario championship in 2003, a year after she took up the sport. Her first national title followed in 2004. By the following year she was ready to compete in her first world championship. Getting her to Russia, though, was a financial challenge. Fortunately, Ted Farron, who has worked as her cornerman since 2005, stepped up. Farron, a past chairman of the Windsor District Chamber of Commerce, approached many of his business contacts, and donations small and large came pouring in. “We probably raised $5,000,” Farron said.

In Russia, Spencer won her first world title, and Farron has continued to raise funds for Spencer and her Windsor club since then. He believes it’s a rewarding position. “She doesn’t get into trouble with the law or the police,” he said. “Some of our boxers at the club have been sidetracked by things like that and are getting into trouble. But Mary doesn’t do any of those things.”

Spencer has an impressive record of 115-8, but she isn’t planning to have too many