These Fighting Women Deliver a Powerful Message
Maybe it was a fellowship of the ring kind of thing but wrestler Ohenewa Akuffo, boxer Mary Spencer and judoka Kelita Zupancic -- Canada's Women Warriors -- had an immediate chemistry when we got them together during the Olympic Excellence Series recently in Mississauga.
It was one of those chance things as Judo Canada's communications director Luc Beaudin, a passionate guy with a real creative bent (His colleagues kept an unofficial 'Book of Luc' during the Pan am Games), came up with the concept while we were setting up a photo shoot for Zupancic.
This would be a great video to show to kids as there are strong messages about being yourself and also chasing your dream.
Also included here are some parts of the discussion that didn't make the newspaper story:
Can you talk about young girls looking up to you and being a strong female role model?
Spencer: “I think it’s really cute when you get these really young girls who look like they should be in gymnastics or something. Maybe, they are in gymnastics. They come and they’re like ‘I think you’re doing so good and you’re so cool. I want to get boxing gloves and train like you.’ It’s like ‘Oh really, you’re a cute little gymnast but you wanna box. That’s awesome.’ Even for me, I don’t feel like it’s normal for younger girls but when they see me and other girls in my gym who have stuck with it and accomplished things and won titles, they’re inspired to try it. Wow, that’s really neat because when I was that age I didn’t have the opportunity to put on some gloves and go to a boxing club. But now they do. It’s kinda cool.”
Akuffo: “When I go to schools and speak, some schools have wrestling programs and it (attendance) goes up so much. Some of the girls or even some of the guys recognize the potential in it. It just makes me feel blessed to be doing what I’m doing because you just realize the impact or the handprint that you have and it’s a responsibility also to make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that if a young girl came up to you, you’d always be proud.”
Zupancic: “I have so many young girl cousins. I have 10 of them running around. Whenever I come home, they just run to me. They’re all starting judo now. They’re at that age. Just being a role model to them and showing how hard work can get them travelling the world, competing at the Olympics. A Canadian girl can do it.”
Do you ever get any neat fan letters from kids?
Akuffo: Getting ready for the Olympics last time, you got letters. You should see the writing. It’s so cute. It’s like ‘Wow, you know you story has touched others. That’s pretty remarkable.”
Spencer: “I got a homemade letter/card/piece of art from a 5-year-old girl this one time. It was cute because I’m like ‘Do you even know what boxing is. I don’t think you know what boxing is.’ But it didn’t matter because she knew I was doing well in my sport. It was exciting for her and she just wanted to say congratulations, go reach your goal. It was so cute.”
Zupancic: “I love the little pictures they draw. They try to draw the judo gi and the Canadian flag and it’s always against the American. It’s really funny.”
Did you guys often hear growing up ‘No, sweetie, you want to do ballet.’”?
Zupancic: “I did ballet. My parents saw me doing judo and said ‘Oh, this is her sport for sure.’”
Spencer: “I remember doing figure skating and I was on one half of the ice and the other half was boys’ hockey practice starting. I’m like ‘I don’t want to do this figure skating. I want to play hockey.’ My mom’s like ‘Put your dress on.’ I couldn’t convince her to let me play hockey but eventually I got to pick my own sports.”
Akuffo: “People were always like ‘Why wrestling? Couldn’t you do something else?’ They were always questioning my choice. And I’m like ‘You know what, it’s made for me and I’m okay.”