By Melissa Novacaska
Former Ottawa boxer Kaitlyn Clark punched her way to win the national title at the Canadian Boxing Championships in Victoria, B.C.
The championships, also known as the 2019 Super Channel Championships, ran from April 23-27, with the 26-year-old competing in the 64 kg division.
During the event, Clark, who primarily trains out of her hometown-gym Bluewater Boxing Club in Sarnia, defended herself against opponents from Quebec and B.C. to win the elite gold medal.
“I think I’m still awestruck about it. It was a goal I’d set the first day that I even started boxing eight years ago, and there were a lot of up and downs along the way,” Clark said in a phone interview. “At one point in 2016/2017 it was something that I thought was a dream (and that) I would never attain.”
Leading up to her matches, Clark said she was rather calm and though her goal was to win, she already knew in her head it was going to happen.
“I felt very confident. I wanted to perform in a way that I would be happy with my performance and be proud of what I put out there, but also that all these people who hadn’t seen me box in a year and a half [to] two years since I took some time away, would almost be shocked at how good I got,” Clark said.
Accompanying Clark to B.C. was close friend and fellow boxing enthusiast, Mike Power, and coach Chuck Evans. Her other two coaches, Tom Hennessey and Wade Fleming, along with family and friends watched live streams of her fights from home.
Leading up to the championships, Clark said her training consisted of Olympic lifting, high intensity interval training, running, sparring and more.
“Week by week we were building this awesome pyramid that was leading me to the gold medal and it was as if everything fell into place,” Clark said.
On top of training and boxing, Clark said she occasionally helps out at Bluewater, tutors in multiple subjects, referees basketball and works full-time.
Though the national title is a huge accomplishment for Clark, it’s her journey to this moment that’s more impressive.
After growing up playing multiple sports including volleyball, basketball and dance, it was when she was 15, while watching Dancing with the Stars and being “intrigued” by contestant and boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, that she first desired giving boxing a shot.
Her parents deemed it dangerous at first and figured their daughter was simply going through a phase. Years later, at 18, Clark took up the sport and trained for just eight months before her first four fights.
She then moved to Ottawa to pursue post-secondary education at Carleton University and found herself with the Beaver Boxing Club for roughly six and a half years. There, she won three provincial titles, two silver national medals and one bronze, and also fought overseas in competitions Sweden and Ireland.
“I got a lot of really great experience [at Beaver Boxing] and it’s a big club with some good coaches so it definitely allowed me to grow as a boxer. My time was well spent there, I learned a lot of things that helped me grow as person and as an athlete,” Clark said.
However, things changed for Clark in 2016. During her final semester at Carleton, a number of ill-timed events happened, including her diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis and worst of all, the sudden passing of her father.
“I had all these things happening all at once and I just didn’t love boxing anymore. It was like when my dad died I realized there are way more important things in life than boxing. I wasn’t having fun, I was stressed out all the time,” Clark recalled.
During her last national championships in 2017 when she was still training with Beaver, Clark fought below her potential and only finished with a bronze medal.
“After that I thought I was going to quit boxing,” Clark said.
Shortly afterwards, Clark decided to move back to Sarnia and start fresh with Bluewater. What began as something for fun turned into admiration for the sport all over again.
“[I realized] I want to do this and just over the last year and a bit I’ve totally learned to love the sport for all that it is. It’s funny because now that it’s just fun, the accomplishments are pouring in,” Clark said.
Clark said she feels “zero stress” when boxing, even at this year’s nationals. She credits the environment Hennessey, Fleming and Evans created at the gym as being “fun.”
Though both Fleming and Hennessey were unable to travel to nationals, they had positive thoughts to share about watching her compete.
“I was ecstatic. [She was] ripping her right uppercut really well and her footwork and balance were really good and I could tell she was 100 per cent on point, she was so well prepared,” Fleming said. “She looked fantastic, she’s an extremely hard worker and I’m very proud of her.”
Hennessey also expressed similar sentiments about Clark’s journey and her latest win.
“I [was] really excited for her [and] the fact that she had turned her whole career around. [I] knew she could do it. Boxing is a very mental sport and being able to overcome all of her demons and put herself in a position to do that was pretty nice to watch,” Hennessey said.
Though she knows she won’t fight forever, Clark said she “can’t see her life without boxing.”
“It could literally end at any second, but it’s something that I always want to be involved in in some way,” Clark said. “I’m so happy when I’m doing it, I just love it in the purest form. It’s ballet with punches, it’s beautiful.”
Two other of Beaver’s fighters won medals at the national championships. Ottawa’s Marija Curran won a silver medal in the women’s 81kg division, falling just short of her third national title. Emelia Dermott, who moved to Ottawa from Burlington and now fights out of Beaver, won her fourth title in the youth women’s 51kg division.