Meet Brigitte, Jane and Maria — three champs behind the champ
By Jeff Hicks
Mandy Bujold, her flyweight faith in her boxing career shaken, sat quietly in a church pew a year or so ago. Her mom Brigitte, seated beside her, scribbled numbers on a piece of paper and handed them to her daughter like she was passing on a sacred parchment.
“2012. 2016. 2020.”
Brigitte then drew a lion and a bear.
Mandy understood what her mom, who often compares her daughter to the giant-slaying David of the Bible, was telling her. Mandy needed to make a boxing comeback.
It all made sense to Mandy, a new mom wondering if boxing was best left behind her.
You see, David killed a bear and a lion before taking down Goliath.
In a way, that could be Mandy’s stepping-stone path to glory too.
Mandy fell short of making the London Games in 2012. That year was a bear. She made the Rio Games in 2016 but, despite slaying that lion, illness sapped her strength and her medal chances. So 2020 was to be Mandy’s year. She would topple Goliath with a boxing medal.
Destiny was on Mandy’s side. Brigitte was sure of it.
“That was her way of inspiring me,” Mandy recalled on after returning home from church on Sunday, International Women’s Day.
“She believes in my dreams, sometimes even more than I do. She’s always there to encourage me even if I have moments of doubt.”
Divine inspiration. Financial and moral support. Organizational expertise.
Mandy, an 11-time national amateur champ and two-time Pan Am Games gold medalist, gets all that from a sturdy trio of strong women in her life.
Brigitte is one. Jane Black and Maria Pilavakis are also Team Bujold all-stars.
“They’re my go-to women,” said Mandy as she prepared to join the national team in Montreal to train for the upcoming continental Olympic Qualifiers in Buenos Aires.
“They’re the people I reach out to if I ever have any questions or doubts.”
Black, a retired banking executive and business leader in Waterloo Region, helped Mandy get financial support since her first Olympic run a decade ago.
Black took charge at a key moment. A fundraising meeting drew business leaders and hit a wall of indecision. Black simply pulled out her chequebook and made a donation. Black challenged her colleagues to follow her lead and ante up. The required money was raised.
“She doesn’t talk about things, she just does it,” Mandy says of Black. “She’s been my No. 1 fan, my No. 1 cheerleader.”
Black completely invested in helping Mandy achieve her Olympic dream. She even went to the Rio Olympics to support Mandy there. Mandy believes the two are very similar.
“We both have this just-go-for-it attitude and personality. She does it in the business world. I do it in the boxing world,” Mandy said. “If I was a business woman, I’d want to be like her.”
Pilavakis, Mandy’s long-time friend, is much more than a professional in the gas and energy industry. She’s also become Mandy’s manager over the years. Maria and her mom Sophie also went to the Rio Olympics to support Mandy.
Pilavakis helps run the boxer’s web site, applies for grants and proof-reads speeches Mandy writes for public appearances. Their collaboration has helped Mandy become honoured as an Oktoberfest woman of the year and a Zonta Club woman of influence in Waterloo Region.
They met while Mandy trained Pilavakis and her sister. For a year, they were even roommates in Toronto, where Mandy was training for Rio. Their bond is strong.
“She’s a great organizer,” Mandy said. “She’s my go-to person for everything — literally.”
Pilavakis’ mom even helps with babysitting Mandy’s toddler Kate.
Mandy considers them family. Maria’s counsel is invaluable.
“She’s a go-getter. She’s a doer.” Mandy said. “I like to set goals for myself and do them. I always look for other people who are similar, whether in the sports world or beyond.”