Airdrie teen Emily Vigneault punches her way to Canada Winter Games boxing gold medal

Emily Vigneault practices with her coach, Lucas George. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)
Emily Vigneault practices with her coach, Lucas George. (David Mercer/CBC - image credit)

Now back at her home gym in Airdrie, Alta. Emily Vigneault still can't quite believe she's a gold medallist.

She took the podium in the women's boxing 60 kilogram division of the Canada Winter Games, one of the largest multi-sport events in the country, in P.E.I. earlier in March.

Standing up there, with the medal around her neck, she said there was nothing like it.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, there's so many people.' And I was really happy to be there. And I worked really hard to get to that spot, just that moment. I've been working months just to get there," she said.

It's a huge accomplishment considering Vigneault, 16, only started boxing about three years ago.

She's also the inaugural winner in the division, with women's boxing only being introduced into the event this year.

"I felt so happy inside, not just because I won, but I was able to represent women and show others that it's OK for them to move forward, for them to do any sports, even if it's like judo or boxing or karate or whatever it is, they are able to do it no matter what."

Lucas George, head coach at Humble Boxing Academy, said the competition marked one of the first big events for an athlete from his gym.

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

He said he felt nerves from the moment she was selected to take part.

"She's going in there relying on me, what I'm teaching her, what I'm giving her, the time I'm putting in," he said.

"So it was a roller coaster for sure for the both of us. But it was a lot of fun and I'm so proud of her and all the work that she's put into it and her accomplishment. She came home with gold. That's amazing."

A boxing natural 

Vigneault has been practicing different martial arts, especially Muay Thai, since six-years-old.

She started to boxing to improve her head movements and footwork, but she found she enjoyed the sport more.

"I transitioned to boxing completely after I tried it," she said. "I really like the way it feels because it feels more like me."

She trained with a few different coaches, but about eight months ago, her dad found George and his Airdrie gym.

Vigneault went down for a trial and decided to join the club.

"She works hard, she's dedicated, she's committed. It's just made my life easy," George said. "We had a lot of work. Her foundation was clean, but we had to kind of deconstruct it and rebuild it."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

When she received word she'd be going to the Canada Winter Games, Vigneault said she stepped up her training regime, practicing six days a week.

She'd run five kilometres each morning before school, and after her classes, she'd spend about three hours at the gym working on footwork, cardio and reaction time with George.

"He focuses a lot on footwork and movement, which is a huge advantage because he says anybody can punch. Anybody can do that kind of stuff, but not everybody can do footwork unless you practice it," she said.

Vigneault said she also prepared mentally, practicing meditation and having long talks with her parents to ensure she was ready to take on the other competitors.

"The level of competition was really high because I know that the girls there, they were there for a reason," she said. "It's only a matter of who worked the hardest and who has the most talent, who has the most will to win."

David Mercer/CBC
David Mercer/CBC

For other women at the gym, George says Vigneault has been an inspiration.

"I know that my daughter is super motivated by Emily. She's never wanted to train boxing more than now," he said.

Later this month, Vigneault will enter the ring again to compete in Alberta's provincial tournament, hosted March 25 and 26 in Calgary.

In the future, she can see herself going professional, and maybe even becoming a coach, pushing other young women to follow their passion.

"Why not try it? You only have one life."

Young Calgary

CBC Calgary is looking for more young voices to help shape the news.

You can join our text messaging community to share your ideas.

Highlight the heroes in your life. Tell us about the challenges you're facing down, and make suggestions on what you'd like to see CBC Calgary cover next.

It could be fun, and we promise to keep you in the loop the whole way. It's free and confidential. Unsubscribe any time.