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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018
The meeting of the two sporting worlds of Amber Konikow
by Randy Pascal

A two-time national champion and bronze medal winner at Worlds, there is no doubt that Amber Konikow drew heavily from her boxing career as she transitioned towards her current status as an accomplished ultra-distance marathoner.

Surprisingly, the carry-over was hardly at all what one might have expected.

To be sure, the cardio and general fitness that accompanied her demanding training regimen over a series of years allowed Konikow to enjoy an athleticism that became the base for her ability to now travel one hundred miles or more, by foot, over a matter of just a few days.

But the two distinct aspects of her life, or at least her life since her late twenties, have truly intermingled in manners so much more meaningful than that. And it dates back to her very start in sports.

“I was active as a kid,” said Konikow recently. “Because we lived in the country, I would walk a lot, ride the bikes, doing activities, but not organized sport. I had no interest whatsoever. I was really shy, and felt intimidated.”

Fast forward to the age of 26, perhaps 27, and Konikow had now returned to Northern Ontario following a stint in Washington D.C., a point in time in which she admitted the “fit just wasn’t for me.”

“I moved back home and got a job in ICU,” recalled the graduate of the Nursing program at Cambrian College. “But that was all I was doing – working, watching TV, working. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted more than what I was doing, so I thought about getting in better shape.”

Taking a couple of cracks at various avenues to physical fitness, Konikow was eventually steered towards boxing, forging a connection that clicked immediately. “At that time, I don’t really know why I wanted to go, except that I felt such a great sense of belonging in a very positive environment,” she said.

“For some reason, I felt like I was allowed to learn and express myself there. Boxing made me feel safe. Everyone was there to learn, no one cared if you were a girl or a guy, I felt like we were all equals. And I loved how it made me feel.”

“You could see the transition, the confidence that was building up, the self-esteem that was building up, and I was seeing it even in my professional work as a nurse,” Konikow continued. “It progressed, and it’s so empowering.”

Over time, that progression would create a national champion boxer, as the inner potential of an amazing athlete was only beginning to be unearthed. Looking back now, connecting the dots, Konikow recognizes the building blocks of a mental toughness that is the core strength of her success in the challenging world of endurance racing.

“Mentally, it’s how you perceive yourself in that time and moment, whether it’s in the ring, or it’s out doing a hundred miler,” she said. “A lot of it is will, determination and heart, and you have to have a passion for the sport that you’re involved with. I was passionate about boxing. With ultra marathon running, I’m always smiling. I’m happy that I’m out there, just doing it.”

“I’m not saying the mental strength came overnight, this has to build up over the years.” There would be additional sources of information, sources that could expand the scope of the athlete that Konikow would eventually become, sources that she certainly did not see coming.

“I ended up taking up yoga while I was running ultras,” Konikow reminisced. “I had kind of a bad attitude, like what’s yoga going to do for me when I’m already a boxer and a runner. But the benefits were huge and I was wrong to judge. Some of the things that we talked about, being in the moment and accepting where you are instead of when am I done, I definitely used that.”

“I used to say that to the boxers, never think when is it over, when is it over? Just be in the moment and control the situation. Make it happen, as (coach) Gord (Apolloni) would say, so I applied that to running.”

“If you’re doing a hundred miles, you know damn well you’re going to be out there for 24, 30 hours, so you might as well accept the fact that you can’t change that,” Konikow stated. “But you can be in that moment and enjoy every step, take care of any challenges, go with the flow. It’s helped me a lot.”

Pragmatically speaking, the training for endurance racing simply filled the void when the laws that govern international boxing stipulated that the bronze medal winner at the 2008 World Boxing Championships in China could no longer compete, due to her age.

“Boxing had become such a big part of my life,” said Konikow. “Instead of having to find motivation to do it, it just became part of my normal routine. It was the joy of my life. When it was gone, I felt such a huge emptiness. I think I lost a sense of purpose. I was looking for other means to set goals for myself, to try something interesting and challenging.”

Just a few short years later, Konikow would again scale the mountain, earning bragging rights as the first female finisher at the Haliburton 100. And while there might be constant interconnectivity between the two athletic pursuits that have dominated the past fifteen years of her life, so too are there stark contrasts between the two, even as she recalled her greatest achievements in those respective fields.

“Compared to winning Haliburton, the world medal is completely different,” she said. “At first, I was told I wasn’t allowed to go to worlds, because of my age, so I had to fight that and got the OK to go. When I got there, I already felt a sense of accomplishment.”

“When I actually won a medal and was able to stand on the podium and see the Canadian flag, it was the hugest thing I’ve ever, ever, ever achieved. I was now one of those people that I used to watch on TV, when I was thinking that I need to change my life.”

She was thinking back to a time when she would start down a path that, amazingly, would eventually see the meeting of the two sporting worlds of Amber Konikow.

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