Her flirtation with boxing came like an unsightly jab in the ring — from a bloke she kind of had a crush on in her late teens but little did Alexis Pritchard know the code was going to propel her to the Olympics one day.

Pritchard, of Auckland, took the friend's advice on board — with perhaps some ulterior motives in the hope their paths were going to cross although she was never going to go to his gym "because it would have been too freaky" — and flipped through the Yellow Pages to locate a preferably neighbourhood boxing gym.

"I found one and called but they had an answering system which said, 'Hey, we're too busy to answer the phone so just come on in and give it a try'," says the 34-year-old South African-born pugilist whose overriding desire was to work on her fitness.

Pritchard did and the rest is history for the exponent from the Cameron Todd Boxing who is in Hawke's Bay to showcase the growth of female boxing during the Hastings Giants Boxing Academy promotion today.


She and Auckland clubmate Baylee Macdonald, 19, will fight in an exhibition match when the promotion begins from 3pm at the Hastings academy.

Pritchard tips the scale around the 57kg mark after shedding 3kg to make the featherweight division from lightweight, which was her original weight when she first started boxing. Gisborne-born Macdonald weighs 63kg as a super lightweight.

The 2012 London Olympian No 1196 hung up her gloves in July last year but came out of retirement early this year in the hope of making the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games early next year.

She rattles off her No 1196, memorising it as one would his or her bank card pin, before emphasising every Olympian has a number akin to the All Blacks.

Her path did not cross with the friend she had a crush on but Pritchard, ironically, married trainer Cameron Todd whose boxers fight out of Wreck Room in Auckland.

The first gym she went to, Boxing Central, was Todd's former business but has relocated. She and Todd's friendship blossomed before they started dating.

"We're going to be celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary in December," she says.

Nevertheless, the couple are mindful of the need to define their boundaries for work and married life because, at times, it was easy to stray into a grey area of mixed messages.


"I've had to learn to be Lex the athlete who takes instructions from Cam her coach versus when I initially used to be at training, listening to Cam my coach and upset with the way my husband was speaking to me but he wasn't — he was my coach."

To avoid the blurred lines, she insists Todd doesn't talk shop at home.

"Cam loves talking about boxing all the time and I don't."

Rocking up to the gym Pritchard didn't feel intimidated and it barely crossed her mind that she was entering a predominantly male domain.

"Cam has never, ever made me feel that way either," she says of a "commercial gym" where boxing training was eventually canned to mould individuals' technique.

Pritchard saw a couple of girls in their early teens boxing squad and felt if they could do it, so could she. She did in eight months.


In her maiden sparring session she cried, not bawling but tears welled up and streamed down her face when a punch or two caught her on the crook of the nose that has a tendency to trigger off such a biological reaction.

"Cam said to me you get back in that ring now or you get out and don't come back so I got back in," she says, going on to win her first fight not long after.

The teenager who came to New Zealand with her mother, Cherie Pritchard, from Kensington, Cape Town, when she was 16, found support from her parent although she found five years later the senior Pritchard didn't like the idea.

Cherie watched her bouts and yelled and screamed to encourage her but she wished her daughter had opted for something else because boxing went against the grain of social etiquette of hurting people, never mind "unladylike".

It requires one to delve deeper to comprehend a mother who had made enormous sacrifices and taken huge risks to secure their future.

"We were reading the newspaper and saw an ad looking for nurses to work in New Zealand, Australia, England or Canada," she says before the pair agreed to migrate but it took them eight months to chew over it.


"My mum had to do two jobs to save enough money for us to come so it wasn't an easy decision looking back although for me it was quite exciting because it was an adventure."

No doubt she suspects her mother had her fair share of sleepless nights weighing up the pros and cons.

"We didn't know anyone there and we had no support so it was a massive move for her, wanting a change but also wanting to get back into nursing and support me."

Cherie had her share of frights, for example, on finding out what South African rand could buy in New Zealand in conversion rates, especially during the phase when she didn't have employment here although she eventually found other jobs to tick things over until nursing metaphorically came knocking on her door in Auckland.

Pritchard had pictured herself as an "allrounder" growing up in Kensington — relatively sound academically in high school, openly embraced myriad sports for enjoyment but didn't consider herself an elite by any yardstick.

But on arriving here she took up boxing at 19 as a "New Zealand thing" after graduating from Auckland Girls' Grammar School.


Why boxing?

She took a shine to hockey, putting her hand up to be a goalkeeper because the Western Districts Hockey Club's No 1 keeper had emigrated overseas.

"I turned out to be a terrible goalie and we lost every game that season, I think," she recalls with a laugh.

But now, as she takes stock of a 13-year stint in the ring, Pritchard realises she is a mentally stronger woman than she had given herself credit for.

"For me it's trying to be better than yesterday but it's not necessarily about winning gold medals."

It's more about feeling competent and empowered to the extent that she's capable of looking after herself.


"I learned that I can still be aggressive and still be feminine but they aren't mutually exclusive."

For someone who has a quiet sense of confidence about her, Pritchard was able to stimulate a steely sense of determination that had lain dormant in her genes.

"The important thing that I've realised, I suppose, is that I'm good enough and that only happened last year when I retired after the nationals for about six months."

Again, quietly, that's what she will pack into her duffel bag to the Gold Coast Games after coming out of retirement in January to begin training.

After finishing fifth in London Olympics, Pritchard's campaign to make the cut for Rio last year fell shy. A points loss to Yana Alekseevna (60kg division), of Azerbaijan, in the world championship in Kazakhstan in May last year didn't help her case.

"I had lost the fight but I had left the ring saying, 'Lex, that was a brilliant fight and you are good enough'. That was good enough for me because that's what I had been chasing."


However, for the boxer who became the first Kiwi female to win an Olympic bout — when she beat Tunisian Rim Jouini in the round of 16 in London — those shortcomings didn't disappoint her although her stint at the 2014 Glasgow Games in Scotland did.

"I wasn't disappointed that I didn't win a medal but I was disappointed with my performance. I panicked and made mistakes so when I do that my legs get really heavy and I get an instant flash of fatigue and I just couldn't put it together."

Wins, losses and the bling do not define her sense of self-worth but how she bobs, weaves and jabs in any bout.

"I don't promise anyone a medal — not myself, not you or New Zealand. It's probably a concept the country will find strange but it's about my boxing journey."

All the medals she's ever won live in a box in the garage because she doesn't need them to give herself a sense of purpose.

Gold Coast will be another chapter for her as she embarks on another journey of self-discovery with the view of having fun and self-belief that deserted her in London.


"I'm taking calculated risks about my performances and allowing my body to do it because my mind believes and there's no doubt.

"I can look at people now and say I'm Alexis Pritchard, I'm an Olympian and I'm good at boxing," she says, averse to the idea of looking "like a dork" or straying over the fine line where self-belief can come across as arrogance.

"I just couldn't say it out loud because I couldn't even believe it myself."

Pritchard's purpose today in Hastings is to show females they can do what they want to, boxing or any other life's challenges.

"You can be a woman and do something as masculine as boxing or initially thought to be masculine."

She stresses boxing involves a lot more skills and is less about two people pounding each other into submission.


"It's an absolute art form and beautiful to watch when it's a good technical fight."

What differentiates females from males, she reckons, is that the former tend to ask a lot more questions rather than diving into it and becoming enlightened along the way.

"We're probably more frustrating for some trainers but it's the form we start from with a mindful approach," says the boxer who has a long reach and feels she is deceptively stronger than her 1.78m frame looks in her orthodox style.

"People often look at me and think I'm not quick and I can't hit hard."

However, Pritchard feels both gender bring different attributes physically to the ring.

She's hoping girls, mums and even grandmothers will turn up today to observe, and that the event will promote the fantastic fitness aspect to boxing, shatter any preconceived notions out there and encourage generations to embrace it for mental health, if nothing else.


"Boys do this and girls do that — I just hope there comes a day when we all do what we wanted to do rather than what our gender influences us to do."

Her mother-in-law Gwen Todd, and sister-in-law Sonya Aifai live in Napier so she is eager to catch up with them as well this weekend.