Tammara Thibeault pumps her fist in celebrationLeah Hennel/COC
Leah Hennel/COC

The Road to Impossible: Boxer Tammara Thibeault on the many ways to be brave and her journey towards Paris 2024

Tammara Thibeault was 12-years-old when the announcement came that women’s boxing would be included on the Olympic program. So, like many kids at that age, Thibeault figured that she had her career plans settled: she would be an Olympic champion in boxing.

“I just had this feeling of, ‘I can do this. This is what I want to do’,” Thibeault, now 26, says with a chuckle. “Obviously at that time I had no idea what that meant, but that was where it all started.”

At that point, Thibeault had been boxing for a few years. Her father, Patrick Thibeault, was a wide receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League and would box in the off-season as a way to keep in shape.

As biracial kids born to a Haitian-Canadian mother and French-Canadian father attending school in Regina, Thibeault and her siblings often looked different from their peers and were made to feel like outsiders. Their dad thought boxing could help.

Tammara Thibeault of Canada battles against Citlalli Ortize of Mexico in the Women's boxing 75kg Semifinals during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games
Photo by Darren Calabrese/COC

“It started off as just something to do with Dad,” Thibeault says. “My eldest brother was being bullied at school, so my dad said, ‘okay, let’s teach him some boxing.’ I tagged along and really liked it. I fell in love with the sport instantly.”

Thibeault’s family moved from Saskatchewan back to Québec, where she was born, when she was 15. The move also provided her with better training and competition opportunities, and she worked her way onto the national team. Her path to the Olympics had begun.

Reaching new heights

Women’s boxing made its Olympic debut at London 2012, and nine years later Thibeault made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, advancing to the quarterfinals in the women’s 75kg event. This accomplishment matched Canada’s best-ever Olympic result in women’s boxing. In 2022, she was crowned world champion of her weight class at the International Boxing Association Women’s World Boxing Championships and took home gold at the Commonwealth Games.

At the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games this past fall, Thibeault topped the podium in the women’s 75kg weight class after a tight final battle with Atheyna Bylon of Panama, who she had also defeated for the world title the year before. Thibeault’s success at the Pan Ams secured her a golden ticket to Paris 2024 for her second Olympic Games.

One has to think that her pre-teen self would be pretty stoked.

Boxer Tammara Thibeault raises her hands in victory before receiving her gold medal at the Santiago Pan American Games
Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

“She’s very happy!” Thibeault says. “I haven’t quite accomplished what I want to yet at the Olympics. Like a lot of things in life, things didn’t always go according to plan or as expected. With the pandemic, the preparations leading up to the Olympics in Tokyo were below par, especially because boxing is such a close-contact sport, so training was really impaired. So things didn’t pan out the way I wanted to, but that’s okay because I have another opportunity now!”

The dream of the Olympic gold medal is never far from Thibeault’s mind. Having her qualification for Paris secured means less stress and more ability to put her head down and focus on the Games.

“In amateur boxing, I’ve accomplished pretty much everything–I’m just missing ticking one box,” she says.

The bumpy roads to Tokyo and Santiago

Just like the lead up to Tokyo, the journey to Santiago wasn’t always the smoothest ride.

Thibeault is open that she was in a rough patch in her personal life and knew that performing well was going to take an extra level of resilience. Her openness serves as an important reminder that you can never separate “the athlete” from the person.

But it wasn’t just personal matters that Thibeault was fighting through. Certain elements of the tournament tested her balance as well.

Tammara Thibeault yells in happy reaction
Photo by Leah Hennel/COC

“Things didn’t go as planned. For example, I was the first one to box, which doesn’t usually happen because I’m the biggest girl,” Thibeault explains. “Certain fights didn’t go as I wanted.

“I’m very technical. I like to keep things very clean. And my final bout was super messy, super unorganized. It was a challenging opponent because our styles clashed. Hers was a little messy, a little dirty, a lot of holding, and it was very frustrating. So I had to be able to hold that focus and be compassionate with myself knowing that things weren’t really going according to plan.

“Not every performance is your best performance and I had to remind myself to be okay with that.”

Part of that process is leaving things that happened in the past behind. Thibeault doesn’t dwell on winning streaks or consecutive victories. And while she’s very pleased with the Pan Am Games gold, for her, all roads continue to lead to Paris.

Tammara Thibeault grins and laughs after being named world champion
Photo: International Boxing Association

“I’m very happy for all the successes I’ve had, but it’s all leading up to something for me. It’s all leading up to that final piece, the title of Olympic Champion,” Thibeault says. “That’s what I’m going towards, and I know that I have to ground myself in the process of getting better every day. The gold medal in Santiago is great and I’m very happy about it, but for me, the question is–what did I gain from this experience? What did I learn that I did well and what can be improved upon and enacted in the gym?”

In a similar vein, the big celebration for Thibeault post-Pan Ams was just getting to be at home and take some deep breaths after spending over 20 weeks of the year travelling.

“For me, celebrating is having my coffee at my own kitchen table, walking my dog, sleeping in my own bed,” Thibeault says with a chuckle. “I just took that time to be present with my family and close friends.”

Finding people that help you to be brave

Family is Thibeault’s grounding force. Her dad may have introduced her to the sport, but her mom also plays a key role in supporting her: “It’s 10am and I’ve talked to her twice today!”

Thibeault believes that having people who support you as a whole person is vital to athletic success. This is particularly clear after asking her what values she wants to represent as a role model for young boxers.

“If I could pick anything, I would want to tell them to be brave–and embracing what being brave means to them-because it can mean a lot of different things. For me, being brave is to continue in spite of fear, not in the absence of it. And sometimes being brave means being vulnerable,” Thibeault says. “I personally don’t want to portray boxing as a sport where everyone is tough all the time. I value authenticity and I hope I can show that as an athlete and as an individual.”

With Paris 2024 fast approaching, it’s go-time for Tammara the veteran Olympian, but Canada will also be thinking of Tammara, the 12-year-old with a dream, and everything in between.

Tammara Thibeault waves to the crowd while wearing a blue singlet that says CAN on the back
Photo by Candice Ward/COC

Rapid Fire with Tammara Thibeault

What do you wish people knew about boxing?

TT: “I wish people knew how technical and tactical boxing is. A lot of people think we just go in there and fight each other. But there’s a lot of thinking, a lot of analyzing, and a lot of decision-making that goes into it. There’s also a lot of muscle-memory, in that we plan for scenarios, but then things happen spontaneously. I think that’s what makes boxing so great–it’s like art.”

If you weren’t a boxer, what sport would you do?

TT: “I’d be a track athlete. Absolutely. I would do the 400m–I mean, I would need a lot of training, coming from boxing! But I already have the hair and the nails. Sprinters are just so cool.”

What makes you feel ready for competition?

TT: Definitely sparring–especially with new partners.

Thibeault and several other athletes are part of Team Toyota – a roster of Canadian athletes on the road to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024.These athletes share Toyota’s belief in the power of human movement to help overcome barriers, and are sharing their stories to help inspire a future generation of Olympians, Paralympians and Canadians.