Charlie Bucket’s journey started 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, now part of Team England’s Futures programme with Commonwealth Games England and SportsAid, was born in Watford, a half hour’s drive from the Roald Dahl Museum. Unlike the sweets-obsessed kids of his masterpiece, Toussaint wasn’t enamoured of her sport when her dad took his 10-year-old daughter to the gym for the first time.
And one of her earliest bouts didn’t exactly help.
“There weren’t a lot of girls,” remembered Toussaint. “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, I was bleeding everywhere. I thought they were going to stop the fight but they didn’t. I ended up losing.”
A week later, Toussaint got a call: the same girl was in the final, but had no one to fight. Either her nemesis progressed to the final but didn’t fight for the golden gloves, or they could have a rematch.
So, said Toussaint, “I thought, oh, I might as well. Even though I got literally thrashed. And I ended up winning.
“That’s the fight that set up, you know, I can actually do good in this. For me to have gotten absolutely thrashed to beat the girl three weeks later, crazy.”
It’s still something the fighter thinks about, six national titles later: the moment that transformed her from ring-reluctant to Olympic hopeful.
She’s now punching at the door of her dreams, having spent the last year travelling from her Harrow home to Sheffield for regular assessments at the sport’s national HQ, where she’s had the chance to spar with Tokyo 2020 bronze-medallist-turned-pro Karriss Artingstall.
“I’m definitely right there,” agreed Toussaint, who bagged -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 like, but they’re quite strenuous. You’re getting assessed on every aspect. Your running, your attitude, all of it.”
Toussaint, who has her eye on a spot at the Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, can’t remember exactly why her dad decided to drag her to a boxing gym, but she reckons another famous Watford-born athlete might have had something to do with it. “I was about nine when the London 2012 Olympics were happening,” she posits. “I’m like, look at the timeline. AJ [Anthony Joshua] must have inspired me or my dad. He’s a good role model.”
The Team England Futures programme will see over 1,000 talented young athletes and aspiring support staff given the opportunity to attend the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, watch live sporting action and take a first-hand look behind-the-scenes.
The programme seeks to better prepare athletes to deliver medal-winning performances as future debutants for Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB, with Toussaint and her cohort getting free access to interactive online workshop sessions in advance of the Games, as well as time with Team England athletes, expert practitioners and inspirational ambassadors.
She’s also receiving valuable funding from SportsAid, allowing her a degree of very welcome independence.
“I’m 19, so I don’t really want to be relying on my parents!” she added. “That funding goes a long way.”
So, she hopes, will her career. Toussaint has never been to LA, but hopes to have a chance to emulate her idols if her American Olympic dream becomes reality 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’s a lot more women competing now, the gap between the male and female boxing is closing.
“We’re making a breakthrough. Hopefully in LA it will be even bigger.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. You can find out more about the programme by visiting https://www.sportsaid.org.uk/partnerships/team-england-futures/.