EDMONTON - When Susan Haas says she’s been boxing for “half a lifetime,” she’s not just speaking figuratively.
“I got started in St. Albert when I was 12 because I wanted to punch people ... but I never really got serious about it until I joined the Cougar Boxing Club in Edmonton about a year later,” recalled Canada’s reigning 69-kg champion, who’s majoring in political science at Grant MacEwan University.
“Now I’m 26, and some days my muscles and joints ache so much, I feel like I’m 100. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I’m training and fighting, it’s like I’m in my own world. I never think about the obstacles, just the goals.”
The biggest of those goals is to fight for Canada at London 2012, where women’s boxing will be a full Olympic medal event for the first time.
But with only three weight classes — flyweight (48-51 kg), lightweight (57-60 kg) and middleweight (69-75 kg) — only 36 women from across the globe will be invited to the dance.
Haas aims to be one of them — and she’s got a great shot. A slick boxer-puncher with knockout power in either fist, she puts in Spartan hours honing her craft and routinely holds her own in sparring against men.
Haas brought home the Women’s Open title from the Ringside World Championships in Kansas City last weekend, but there’s no time to celebrate. She’s already back in training, preparing for a European Boxing Confederation tournament that opens Sept. 4 in Nikolaev, Ukraine.
As the lone Westerner on the 10-member national women’s team, Haas feels a special pride in representing her province — and her club.
“Right from the start, the coaches and other fighters at Cougar made me feel like family,” she said. “Even though I was pretty young, they took me right in. Established fighters like Sheldon Hinton were always helping me out. He became like a big brother to me.
“As a kid, I never understood sports like soccer, where it seemed the best and fastest way to get the ball from another player would be to just punch them or push them down. I didn’t get it. But I got boxing.”
Haas, who owns a record of 41-9, took an extended hiatus from the ring after dropping a decision in the 56-kg final at the 2002 nationals.
“When I quit, it was basically because I stopped enjoying the sport. It was getting to the point where I was going to the gym all the time and missing out on all the stuff my friends were doing.
“I just really didn’t want to fight anymore ... and I kind of made up for lost time. My weight got over 200 pounds. I was in terrible shape.”
Then, just as suddenly as it went away, Haas’s passion for boxing returned. She trained like a demon, captured her first senior elite title at the 2009 nationals at Trois Rivieres, and hasn’t looked back.
Now, with London calling, she’s more determined than ever to realize her dream of being an Olympic champion.
“I’m just so grateful to the coaches at Cougar — Rick Hoeppner, Rick Cooper, Bingham Goodwin, Sylvio Fox, John Mendonca. Every one of them has helped me in some way,” Haas said.
“We’re starting to get into a pretty hectic schedule, and it’s only going to get busier as the Olympics get closer.
“At this point, there’s no guarantees for London; it’s wide open. After we get back from Ukraine, there’s the provincials in Red Deer. Then I’ll have to defend my title at the nationals in January, win the box-offs, and then place in the top eight at the worlds.
“I’ll be fighting a lot, but I don’t feel any extra pressure. In fact, I’m enjoying the sense of excitement that’s building towards the Olympics because it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
“All I can do is my best ... and hope that it’s good enough to get me to London.”
Spoken like a true champion.