On May 25, as soccer fans around the world anxiously watched the European Cup final, boxer River Tucker calmly watched the match from her hotel room in Victoria, allowing it to soothe her nerves. The following day, she would compete for the BC women’s provincial boxing title.
Her soccer-watching strategy worked. Tucker became the provincial champion May 26 and earned the right to compete at the national championship in Regina this fall.
It has been a year since Tucker decided to make a run for the title. The fight in Victoria was the culmination of thousands of hours in the gym and on the road, developing her strength and style as a boxer.
Her preparation, both in the days and weeks leading up to the event and on the day of the fight, had to be just right.
“I was there 100 percent mentally, physically; it was perfect,” she says.
Tucker brought food with her to make sure she was eating properly throughout the event and was careful to get enough sleep. But the most important part, she says, was in her head.
She visualized each step of the fight, imagining the win over and over until she believed it completely. “It’s pure confidence,” she says. “It’s challenging.”
The following weekend, Tucker went on to win the BC Silver Gloves championship in Richmond. She now plans to spend the summer getting as many fights under her belt as possible. Given the small number of women fighters here in Canada, that means travelling to the US for tournaments.
Right now she has her sights set on the national championships; the long-range view includes a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.
Tucker began boxing while attending university in Berlin, where sports programs are extensive. “I just went through the whole list of what interested me, and it was boxing and inline hockey, and I stuck with boxing,” she says.
While some see the sport as a good way to get exercise, she says she’s always had a competitive streak. “I probably had my first fight way too early,” she adds with a small smile.
Born in Vancouver but raised in Germany, Tucker returned to BC three and a half years ago and began training with amateur champion Vaia Zaganas.
A journalist by profession, Tucker has given up writing long, research-intensive pieces for quick print stories and personal-training jobs, leaving more time and flexibility for her training.
Two years ago, she decided to make time to train beginner boxers as well, particularly queer ones. She started with informal sessions in McSpadden Park and now runs Queer Box Camp out of a small gym at Fraser Street and 15th Avenue, teaching basic technique and fitness classes.
A large part of the reason for starting Queer Box Camp was to give those who don’t feel comfortable working out in the boys’-club atmosphere of traditional boxing gyms a place to train.
“It’s very sexist and very homophobic,” Tucker says. “It’s very ‘how to be a real man.’ You’re fighting for your space as a woman.”
Having trained in conventional gyms herself, she’s used to making a place for herself and knows it isn’t easy.
“You don’t always want to be in a space where you have to fight for it,” she says. “If you have the energy or that’s all there is, then that’s what you do. But I can see some people don’t want to fight.”
Her Queer Box Camp students have shown their appreciation by supporting Tucker in her dream to compete in the Olympics. They recently threw a fundraiser to raise money for Tucker’s summer competitions and her trip to the nationals. They even made her a robe with her nickname, “The Fox,” to wear before fights.
The summer season will be a test of her training as well as her ability to roll with the punches, a lesson Tucker believes is crucial to success in her sport.
“The one thing I love, that [I] learned with boxing, is that things can’t be perfect and they won’t be perfect,” she says. “Your body doesn’t always have to be perfect.”
She says competing in fight after fight is a way to prove to yourself that you can adapt to all kinds of circumstances. “You’re always strong enough.”