Montreal-area teen punches her way to boxing success

Talia Birch shows off her medals. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Talia Birch shows off her medals. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

Two years ago, Talia Birch hadn't set foot in a boxing ring.

She decided to lace up the gloves as a way to stay in shape during the pandemic.

Now, she has collected a series of accolades, is undefeated after five fights, and is on her way to the Canada Games in Prince Edward Island in February.

The 17-year-old said she wants to ride her boxing success as far as it will take her.

"I know it's just the beginning," she said during an interview on Friday at her home boxing gym, Club de Boxe G1, in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., just west of Montreal.

"But it's looking pretty good right now."

WATCH | Talia Birch teaches CBC's Kwabena Oduro how to box: 

But her path to success hasn't been all fun and games. When she arrives at the gym for a training session with her coach, Jamaal Garner, she is all business. She laces up her boxing shoes, grabs a skipping rope and starts training.

Garner watches over her as she hits the heavy punching bag, sending it swaying as she throws punch combinations while bobbing and weaving. He gives her advice and offers corrections, seeking to tighten her guard or give her more speed and power.

During a fight, Garner is in her corner, turning the same observant gaze toward her opponents, trying to find weaknesses that Birch can exploit.

"It's nerve-wracking," Garner said, "but I'm also trying to keep her out of danger at the same time, which is kind of impossible but it's kind of a coach's job at the same time."

Garner met Birch at a private training session in her family's basement in Vaudreuil-Dorion. It was supposed to be a fitness session, but Garner soon realized he was dealing with someone who had natural talent.

During their second training session, he saw that she was learning fast and needed no reminders of the technical advice he had provided last time.

"It was just easy," he said. "I felt like I didn't have to reteach anything I taught her at the first session. It's flowing, it's smooth and she had natural power."

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

He told her it might be time to start training in the gym to compete in real boxing matches.

When Garner told her she would be a real fighter, Birch said she didn't really believe him.

"But then it came true more and more," she said.

Her first fight came in December 2021 and she won, executing a game plan designed by Garner to a tee.

Every fight has brought Birch more experience and now she says she's starting to really enjoy herself in the ring. "It's a great experience," she said of her fights. "Just seizing the moment."

Boxing has taken her to tournaments as far away as Brampton, Ont. and soon PEI. Birch said she hopes to compete overseas and eventually earn a spot on Canada's Olympic team.

Garner goes to every tournament and fight with her. They have a good connection, he said, which is important for a fighter to have with their coach.

"It's the most proud feeling ever," Garner said. "I was never sure how far I'd be able to take someone as a coach. So to reach this level I'm learning as much as she's learning.

"It's a fun ride."