‘I could never give back to my com­mu­nity as much as it has given me’

Olympic hope­ful holds bout in home com­mu­nity of Ken­net­cook to thank his lo­cal fans

Valley Journal Advertiser - - SPORTS - BY CHRIS COCHRANE CHRON­I­CLE HER­ALD

What started as a ges­ture to say thanks for the sup­port has turned into some­thing far more sig­nif­i­cant for Ken­net­cook boxer Wy­att San­ford and his lo­cal fans.

The four- time Cana­dian am­a­teur cham­pion, with an im­pres­sive 77-17 record, is an en­trenched mem­ber of the na­tional elite box­ing team. He’s cur­rently fo­cused on the next Olympic Games, and that makes him one busy ath­lete these days.

Based out of the na­tional train­ing cen­tre in Mon­treal and do­ing con­sid­er­able trav­el­ling for events and camps, San­ford was sched­uled to be spend­ing a week at home on a short sum­mer break — a rare op­por­tu­nity to get away from the daily grind of try­ing to re­tain and im­prove on his stand­ing as one of the world’s top fight­ers in the 64-kilo­gram divi­sion.

What did he plan to do on his break?

Not sur­pris­ing to those who know him best, the 19-year-old left-han­der saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to ful­fil a prom­ise of head­lin­ing a high-cal­i­bre card at home in front of the friends, fam­ily and fans who have backed him so whole­heart­edly in re­cent years.

Im­por­tant bout

Once Box­ing Canada found out he wanted to fight at home, it got in­volved and turned it into a larger pro­duc­tion by lin­ing up a top in­ter­na­tional-cal­i­bre op­po­nent. This cre­ates an ex­tra op­por­tu­nity for San­ford to gain more points to­ward seed­ing in the pre-Olympic elim­i­na­tion process.

Sud­denly, what started out as just a fun event took on greater sig­nif­i­cance, with San­ford head­lin­ing shows July 6 at East Hants Sport­splex in Lantz and July 8 at Find­ley Park in North Noel Road, near his fam­ily’s Ken­net­cook home.

The two cards were high­lighted by bouts fea­tur­ing mem­bers of the Cana­dian na­tional elite team against mem­bers of the Puerto Ri­can na­tional team. The main events pit San­ford against Puerto Ri­can cham­pion Omar Rosario.

Rosario isn’t a soft touch. The two have fought be­fore, with the Puerto Ri­can win­ning a split de­ci­sion.

As for San­ford, he couldn’t be hap­pier to fight at home against world-class com­pe­ti­tion.

“With­out the com­mu­nity and its sup­port, it wouldn’t be hap­pen­ing,” San­ford said last week from Puerto Rico, where he was at­tend­ing a Team Canada train­ing camp while his lo­cal sup­port- Nova Sco­tia boxer Wy­att San­ford, left, takes on Karol Kowal from Poland, dur­ing an am­a­teur bout in Jan­uary. San­ford, of Ken­net­cook, was set to head­line two fight cards this past week­end, July 6 at the East Hants Sport­splex in Lantz and July 8 at Find­ley Park in North Noel Road.

ers were busy or­ga­niz­ing the two week­end shows.

“I could never give back to my com­mu­nity as much as it has given me.”

The East Hants and Hants North ar­eas are well-known for its gen­eros­ity in sup­port­ing lo­cal sports. East Hants fea­tures a list of im­pres­sive sports in­fra­struc­ture for its ath­letes, and the more ru­ral Hants North re­gion started Nova Sco­tia’s orig­i­nal Chase the Ace pro­gram, us­ing pro­ceeds well into the six-fig­ure range to im­prove sports in­fra­struc­ture and help other com­mu­nity causes.

Lo­cal sports fans and sup­port­ers con­tinue to live up to that generous rep­u­ta­tion.

“In less than 13 hours (af­ter the card was an­nounced), we had seven of 11 VIP ta­bles sold,” said San­ford’s mother An­gela,

who, along with hus­band Dan, has been ac­tive in Nova Sco­tia am­a­teur box­ing not only as the par­ents of three box­ing sons — Wy­att, plus older broth­ers and former pro­vin­cial cham­pi­ons Devin and Ryan — but also in var­i­ous other ca­pac­i­ties.

“They (the VIP ta­bles) were $1,000 apiece,” she said. “The last cou­ple of days, ticket sales are re­ally pick­ing up.”

Com­mu­nity sup­port

Com­mu­nity sports lead­ers couldn’t be hap­pier with the event. San­ford’s ca­reer sends a mes­sage to lo­cal youth about the ben­e­fits of sports, and his re­turn to head­line two in­ter­na­tional shows is more ev­i­dence of what can hap­pen for ath­letes any­where when they com­bine hard work with nat­u­ral tal­ent.

“He (San­ford) is the real deal,” said lo­cal busi­ness­man Eric White.

White is one of the lead­ers of a large group of vol­un­teers in Hants North who play a prom­i­nent role in the Chase the Ace fundrais­ing projects. A large por­tion of the prof­its are used to has­ten lo­cal sports in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments and as­sist a resur­gence of the area’s mi­nor base­ball pro­grams.

“He is def­i­nitely a role model for our com­mu­nity and to the

young peo­ple in our com­mu­nity. It shows them that if you have a goal or a plan you can suc­ceed,” White said.

“He’s im­pres­sive, highly mo­ti­vated and ded­i­cated to the suc­cess of the Olympic pro­gram. For this (high-stature fight card) even to hap­pen in our back­yard, we owe it to our com­mu­nity mem­bers who have been strong sup­port­ers of our com­mu­nity to put some­thing like this on.”

San­ford grad­u­ated early from high school, with aca­demic hon­ours, and earned an aca­demic schol­ar­ship to Saint Mary’s Univer­sity. Yet his ed­u­ca­tion, like many other as­pects of his life, is now be­ing tem­po­rar­ily set aside while he chases his box­ing and specif­i­cally his Olympic Games dream.

He hasn’t for­got­ten about the ed­u­ca­tion.

“All I am fo­cus­ing on (for now) is box­ing. I train at Olympic Sta­dium in Mon­treal with other mem­bers of Team Canada. I’m train­ing with the very best (am­a­teur) box­ers in Canada. Ev­ery day you want to push your­self harder and harder,” San­ford said.

“In the fall I am go­ing back to school. Not a lot of peo­ple have a plan B. I want to get some de­grees so (af­ter box­ing) I (won’t be) start­ing off with noth­ing. The Olympics

is my main goal. It has been that way for four years. If I go to 2020 and don’t get a medal, I’ll go for 2024.”

Given the com­pli­cated qual­i­fy­ing process fac­ing the fight­ers, his road to the next Olympics would be made just a bit eas­ier with wins over Rosario.

Iron­i­cally, dur­ing the Cana­dian elite team’s re­cent stop in Puerto Rico for train­ing camp, San­ford bunked in the room next to Rosario. The two got to know each other bet­ter and talked about clash­ing again in the ring.

“He’s a re­ally nice guy,” San­ford said, but that doesn’t change his at­ti­tude about the bout which came with high ex­pec­ta­tions from the par­ti­san crowds.

“I en­joy pres­sure. The more pres­sure on me the bet­ter I do. Two years ago he beat me 28 points to 27 (on the judges’ cards). Now we have two more years of ex­pe­ri­ence; it’s go­ing to be a great fight,” he said prior to the match.

“I want to get this on so bad — a re­match with this guy, in my home­town. I wish it was to­mor­row.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF BOX­ING CANADA

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