Alexis Pritchard-Todd - Fighting back from defeat
As Alexis Pritchard wandered back to the dressing room, disappointment swelling in her mind like a fresh bruise, two words kept pounding in her mind: "I'm done."\
It was supposed to be the beginning. As the second-ranked Commonwealth boxer in the women's lightweight 60kg division, she was supposed to easily account for her first opponent in Glasgow, Dominica's Valerian Spicer. The real tests lay ahead - England's Natasha Jonas, Australia's Shelley Watts.
But boxers don't operate in the future. They have only the now. Pritchard learned that lesson the hard way and, amid apologies to New Zealand, it's why she convinced herself she was done.
But Pritchard sensed it wasn't as simple as quitting. In the days that followed, she realised she had no choice but to continue.
"I knew I couldn't leave it there," she says, sipping tea at her Newton gym. "I can't finish my boxing career on that performance."
Pritchard admits her mistake in Glasgow was getting too far ahead of herself. It's something she's determined never to do again, which is why the 2016 Rio Olympics aren't on her radar. November's world championships in South Korea are her sole priority, and she's coy about anything beyond that.
Pritchard's coach Cameron Todd, who is also her husband of six years, understands the desire to stay in the present but, as a strategist, is professionally inclined to take the longer view.
"We had so many good things going [before Glasgow]," he says. "We just happened to have a hiccup on the first fight of the Games. What made it worse is that the Australian girl who won the gold, Shelley Watts, Lex had beaten."
Todd thinks about Rio constantly and knows he can help Pritchard grow in the next two years. If only she will let him.
"She's definitely good enough to medal," he says. "Definitely."
Poto by Michael Craig New Zealand Herald
Pritchard couldn't have been more ready for Glasgow. Shortly after her performance at the London Olympics, where she became the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic bout, she received $90,000 from High Performance Sport New Zealand - the sum total of all money given to boxing that year. It enabled her to travel to international tournaments and fight world-class opponents.
"I thought I had prepared as best as I possibly could," she says. "When I was thinking about my fight [with Spicer] and what I had to do . . . I wasn't present. I'd honestly let my mind drift and there [were] times when I was thinking about what I was going to do in the semi-final. I don't believe I gave her enough respect. I had just overlooked her. In my mind, it was going to be an easy day at the office.
"[When Spicer attacked in the third round] I felt panicked. And I was like, 'this is not how it's supposed to go - this is not right'. I know I lost because I performed like a muppet. The panic makes you slower. It saps your energy. You can see punches coming at you but you can't move because you're too slow. It's a terrible feeling. I hadn't prepared for what happens when I'm down. I hadn't told my mind, 'you need to move, fight back'."
It's ironic Pritchard didn't have a plan B because she had, since coming to New Zealand from South Africa at the age of 16, been living one every day.
She grew up in "a poorer community" in Cape Town with just her mum, Cherie, who was a qualified nurse but felt unsafe working in under-resourced local hospitals battling HIV and Aids. It was Pritchard, though, who agitated for the move. The transition was difficult and she didn't click at Auckland Girls' Grammar.
"The school I came from was co-ed, so an all-girls school was very different," she says. "Settlers High [in South Africa] was very English-based, whereas AGGS was a little bit looser. I like structure and discipline."
While studying for a sports science degree, a friend said he was attending boxing classes for fitness. He suggested Pritchard give it a try.
She flipped through the Yellow Pages looking for boxing gyms and ended up dialing the number of her future coach and husband.
"When she had her first sparring session, I straight away sensed she had something special," says Todd, who coaches the entire New Zealand women's squad.
"Her first session was against quite a strong girl who basically wasn't very nice to her at all, and she handled it very well.
"She's a great build for a boxer - tall, long levers and she's physically very strong. Her mental toughness came through very quickly."
That resilience is borne out of a difficult life experience.
While Cherie would have preferred Pritchard to be a triathlete or a triple jumper - "what mother wants her daughter to be a boxer?" - the decision didn't come as much of a surprise.
"She's always been adventurous," she says. "She grew up with me and I was a single parent, and she experienced all the tough years that I had with her, so I'm sure a lot of it just rubbed off on her."
Pritchard's parents never married. Her father lived in Canada for most of her childhood and Pritchard is unflinching about the nature of her parents' relationship.
"It was a difficult situation for him to be in," Pritchard says. "She obviously wanted a child and chose to have me. I'm sure if he could have made the decision, I probably wouldn't have eventuated.
"From about 13 to 21, we didn't speak. That was a decision I made and I think it was one of [my] best decisions, because it was a time when I didn't have to struggle with why my father's not in my life, and why he's only sometimes in my life."
In recent years, the wounds have healed and the two have worked to build a positive relationship.
"My dad is great now. He came to London, and the Commonwealth Games. He's super proud of what I'm doing.
"I would have been a different person if he'd been in my life. I possibly wouldn't have done what I've done or had the beliefs, conviction, stubbornness and strength I do. That came from adversity."
Photo / Greg Bowker New Zealand Herald
London was the first time women's boxing was on the Olympic programme and Pritchard's win over Tunisia's Rim Jouini brought her to the attention of the New Zealand sporting public.
She had been fighting competitively for seven or eight years before the Games - years of graft in which she balanced training and fighting with work as a physiotherapist.
She had no expectations going into London, so to win that first fight and get a taste of the Olympic experience seemed like success enough.
That attitude changed in the following two years. The High Performance funding was liberating and meant she no longer had to work full-time, or fundraise or borrow money to get to important tournaments overseas.
But it also increased expectation, something Todd feels got to his charge. Pritchard has good reason to banish thoughts of Rio because, if she performs badly in Korea, her funding could be cut to zero.
"I need to do well to get funding," she saYS. "But then I managed to go seven years without funding and still got to the Olympics. You can't do it for someone else - you have to do it for you. You have to love it."
For now, at least, it seems clear Pritchard still does. That first training after Glasgow confirmed that. "It was exciting again and I was like, 'yeah, I belong here. I feel good here. I'm good at this'."
Original Article by Nick Edlin in the New Zealand Herald
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