Fourteen months ago, Bianca Paquin was a shy and overweight girl miserable about being bullied in school.
After a friend dumped her, saying she was too fat, she decided to lose weight. Her father, Richard Sarty, helped her by training her to box at their home in Spryfield, a suburb of Halifax.
It didn't take long before she was hooked. "I just fell in love with it," says Paquin, 14, who became the Canadian junior champion in the 48 kilogram-and-under weight class in March, and was named Canada's junior female boxer of the year.
Paquin will head to Kansas City, Mo., in August for the Ringside World Championships to test her skills against junior boxers from around the world.
Says Paquin's trainer, Tyson Cave: "We have plans in the next four years for the 2016 Olympics."
Her participation reflects the growing interest in the sport across the country. Women's boxing received huge doses of credibility and visibility when it was placed on the menu of the London 2012 Olympics, and Boxing Canada's female membership has since swelled to 40 per cent of its athletes, up from 10 per cent in a short time, according to the association's president, Pat Fiacco.
Several of Canada's senior boxers will be on view this week at a tournament in Cornwall, Ont., including Olympic hopefuls Mary Spencer, Mandy Bujold and Sandra Bizier. They are testing themselves against some of the best competition from the Americas in the type of high-level bouts Paquin is aiming to participate in down the road.
"They're serious role models now," Fiacco says. "They have become someone that they probably thought they never could become, as a result of this achievement, this discipline. In many cases coming to the gym for a few hours is an escape. They realize they're better than some people might think they are. Not so much as a boxer, at first, but as a person."
Paquin will be closely watching women's boxing during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Boxing has changed her. Now she is confident and outgoing. Her eye is cast far down the road.
The 5-foot-2 Paquin weighed 145 pounds when she began boxing. She dropped 40 pounds over four months.
"It wasn't that hard," she says. "I wasn't eating that well. Once I started eating better, the weight just came off."
She moved from fun training at home to serious training at Palooka's, a professional gym, and six weeks later surprised her mom by asking for a boxing medical so she could fight. Her mom had assumed the boxing was all for exercise, and admits she didn't want her daughter climbing into the ring.
Paquin says she likes "the adrenalin rush when fighting somebody."
Even after six fights – all victories – Paquin's mom and dad are still nervous before each fight. "I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack every single one, until her fight is over," Patti Paquin says.
A typical day begins at 5:30 a.m. with a solo 10-kilometre run along a stretch of road that is dark and lonely as only an early-morning road can be. An honours student in her Grade 8 class at Cunard Junior High School, Paquin heads to the gym after school for several hours of sparring, shadow boxing, pushups and skipping, with 45 minutes off for supper. She spars with males of various ages because so few women box in Nova Scotia. "I never spar with girls," Paquin says. "There's no girls to spar with."
In late February, Paquin travelled to Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., with three other Halifax boxers for the national championships, and spent a week training. The fight lasted 90 seconds. The referee gave her opponent a standing count one minute into the first round and called the fight 30 seconds later.
"I didn't get hit much because I didn't stop throwing," Paquin says. "I knew I could because I train so much I have a lot of stamina."
If Paquin is a contender in 2016, Fiacco will end up telling the same tale he used to describe Canada's three medal hopefuls – Spencer, Bujold and Bizier.
Special to The Globe and Mail