Bujold hopes to cap comeback from baby with trip to Tokyo Olympics

The Canadian Press

What would Mandy Bujold say to her daughter about chasing her dreams?

When the Canadian boxer was weighing a possible return to the Olympic ring four years after Games heartbreak in Rio, she pictured a future conversation with her daughter.

"That's something that's motivating me because I knew I wanted to do another (Olympics), and I was thinking: What if I was having this conversation with my daughter when she's a little older, and she was saying, 'I really want to do this, but I don't know about the sacrifices,' I would 100% be encouraging her and telling her to do it."

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Bujold's daughter Kate Olympia — whose initials "K.O." were wonderfully coincidental — is 15 months old.  

"Although she might not understand fully right now because she's so young, I think it's going to be a great way to share this story with her later, and as she grows up, she's going to see what I did," she said. "And that's going to be kind of a cool inspiration for her."

The 11-time national champion and two-time Pan Am Games gold medallist at 51 kilograms can book a berth in the Tokyo Olympics later this month in Argentina, capping a comeback from a couple of huge setbacks. Bujold fell ill at the Rio Olympics, and was unhooked from an I.V. and taken directly to the boxing venue from the hospital ahead of her quarterfinal bout against China's Ren Cancan. She couldn't even muster the energy to warm up and was soundly beaten.

Three months after Rio, her coach Adrian Teodorescu died of cancer.

The 32-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., went into the Olympics believing they would be her last. Afterward, she needed to step back from the sport.

"Because it was something you work for your entire life. And then for it to just kind of fall the way it fell was not the way I had imagined it," she said. "Took me a little while to process that, and to feel comfortable even sharing that story or talking about it."

There were lingering feelings of a missing piece in her career.

"I got married (to Reid McIver), I had a baby and I think right after having Kate was when I was kind of like, 'Well, I'm going to start training and see just to get back in shape and get my body back,'" she said. "I always had (a comeback) kind of in the back of my mind, but that was when I really started to have those conversations with my husband and my family and to see if I had the support, because obviously with the baby now, it's very different, planning and training and all that."

Bujold joined a growing group of world-class athletes who are also moms. Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, a world silver medallist and mom to daughter Corinne, should be a headliner on Canada's track and field team in Tokyo. Andre De Grasse's partner Nia Ali won gold for the U.S. in the 100-metre hurdles at the world championships this past fall, 16 months after giving birth to their daughter Yuri — Ali's second child. Ali did her victory lap of the Doha track with Yuri perched on her hip and four-year-old son Titus skipping a few feet ahead of her.

The WNBA recently upped its support for motherhood. The league's new CBA, announced in January, includes full pay during maternity leave, an annual childcare stipend, two-bedroom apartments for players with kids, and workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, among other benefits.

"I'm pretty proud of it, the fact that I was able to have a baby and then come back so quickly at that level," Bujold said.

Adding a baby to an already crowded training schedule hasn't been easy. But it's helped that her coach Syd Vanderpool also fought for world titles while having a young family.

"He understands the sacrifice that you are giving when you're putting into the gym and you know, with your family," she said. 

Becoming a mom has helped Bujold refine her focus.

"When I'm in the gym, I'm very deliberate about the time that I'm spending there and I know that all the time that I spend away from my daughter is important time, right?" she said. "When I'm in the gym, it helps motivate me to be there with intention and not just kind of like putting in the work. It's kind of: 'OK, what do I want to get out of this session?'

"And I have to be professional planner, sitting down with my husband and my mom the week before and being able to just plan OK, who's got her now? Where is Kate going to be at what point?' And there's not as much time for the recovery in between (training sessions). When I come home if she happens to be napping, I can take a nap and get recovery that way.

"But, sometimes you come home and she just wants to play so you've got no choice but to play," she laughed. "This is my new normal and I just have to go with it."

Bujold had hoped to compete at the 2012 London Olympics, where women's boxing made its debut. She thought she'd locked up a spot, but the newness of the sport caused a bureaucratic nightmare. The world championships were deemed the qualifier, and Bujold opened the event against the former world champ and lost. Boxing officials awarded Canada's lone wildcard Olympic spot to Mary Spencer, who went on to lose in the Olympic quarter-finals.

Bujold can punch her Tokyo ticket March 26 in Argentina. She must finish top-four in the tournament. Failing that, there's a last-chance event in May in Paris.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.

Lori Ewing , The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An incorrect name for Mandy Bujold's coach appeared in a previous version.

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