Charlie Bucket’s journey began with one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets – but it was a pair of golden gloves that changed everything for Sameenah Toussaint.
The 19-year-old boxer, who is now part of Team England’s Futures program with Commonwealth Games England and SportsAid, was born in Watford, half an hour’s drive from the Roald Dahl Museum. Unlike the candy-obsessed children of his masterpiece, Toussaint was not in love with her sport when her father took his 10-year-old daughter to the gym for the first time.
And one of his first fights didn’t really help.
“There weren’t many girls,” Toussaint recalls. “It was literally me and this other girl. It was my second fight and her tenth or something. She literally ran rings around me.
“My nose popped out, I was bleeding all over. I thought they were going to stop the fight but they didn’t. I ended up losing.”
A week later, Toussaint received a call: the same girl was in the final, but had no one to fight. Either his nemesis progressed to the final but didn’t fight for the Golden Gloves, or he could get a rematch.
So, says Toussaint, “I thought, oh, I might as well. Even though I was literally beaten up. And I ended up winning.
“It was the fight that set up, you know, I can really do good in that. For me to have been completely beaten to beat the girl three weeks later is crazy.
It’s still something the fighter thinks about, six national titles later: the moment that transformed her from ringside reluctant to Olympic hopeful.
She is now knocking on the door of her dreams, having spent the last year traveling from her home in Harrow to Sheffield for regular assessments at the sport’s national headquarters, where she had the chance to train with the medalist of Tokyo 2020 bronze turned pro Karriss Artingstall.
“I’m definitely here,” admitted Toussaint, who won -57kg bronze in March at the EUBC European Under-22 Championships in Croatia.
“I’m on the radar. I’ve been doing assessments for years, I know what they’re going to be, but they’re pretty painful. You are evaluated on all aspects. Your race, your attitude, all that.
Toussaint, who has her eye on a berth in the Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, can’t remember exactly why her father decided to train her at a boxing gym, but she believes another athlete famous born in Watford could have had something to do with it. “I was around nine years old when the London 2012 Olympics took place,” she says. “I’m like, look at the timeline. A J [Anthony Joshua] must have inspired me or my father. It’s a good model. »
The Team England Futures program will see over 1,000 talented young athletes and aspiring support staff have the opportunity to attend the Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022, watch live sporting action and peek into the backstage.
The program aims to better prepare athletes to deliver medal-winning performances as future debutants for Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB, with Toussaint and his cohort gaining free access to interactive online workshop sessions ahead of the Games, as well only time with Team English Athletes, expert practitioners and inspiring ambassadors.
She also receives valuable funding from SportsAid, allowing her a much-appreciated degree of independence.
“I’m 19, so I don’t really want to depend on my parents!” she added. “This funding goes a long way.”
So, she hopes, will be her career. Toussaint has never been to Los Angeles but hopes to have a chance to emulate her idols if her US Olympic dream comes true in 2028.
She added: “Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor have done a lot for women’s boxing. Katie, she’s inspired a lot of girls, a lot of people, actually.
“There are a lot more women competing now, the gap between men’s and women’s boxing is narrowing.
“We are making a breakthrough. Hopefully in Los Angeles it will be even bigger.
Commonwealth Games England have appointed SportsAid to lead the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022. You can find out more about the program by visiting https://www.sportsaid.org.uk/partnerships/team-england-futures/.