Pretending to be a boy named Colin just to step foot in a ring, boxing has never been merely a hobby for Caroline Dubois. That moment as a nine-year-old still occupies the thoughts of a Chelsea fighter initially denied the sport she loved due to her gender.
Eight years later and the pretending is all done for a three-time -60kg European junior, world youth and Youth Olympic champion – instead, she’s punching her way to the top.
Three major titles have come in 2018 but her insatiable appetite for more could still be fed after being nominated for SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award.
All the product of a mental attitude proving relentless and unwavering.
“For the Europeans, Worlds and Youth Olympics to come in one year was perfect for me,” she explains. “My dad was telling me before I even competed that I was a world and Olympic champion – that confidence was No.1 for me.
“I knew I had potential and skill, it was about putting the work in. I feel the confidence, but no pressure. When you’re in the ring you’re one of two people – there’s nothing anyone else can do.
“I was drawn in by the challenge. Boxing is you and another person fighting and I just loved it – I left a session wondering how anyone could not want to box.
“You have to be calm. As soon as that bell goes, all the nerves slip away – I feel like I’m sparring and that’s how I try to treat every fight. You don’t panic, you just relax.”
The next senior Olympic Games are less than two years away but Caroline is defiantly plotting her route towards Tokyo 2020.
By then she’ll be aged 19, with some decreeing her too young, but the teenager has spent her life proving people wrong.
All, it seems, except her family – brother Daniel is unbeaten as British heavyweight with the vast Dubois household never allowing anything to deny Caroline her sporting dream.
“It’s great to come home to a family that are supportive, always making sure you’re on track and keeping you in the right direction,” she added.
“They never had any problems with me fighting, my dad always encouraged me – he’s trained me, pushed me and made sure I get my runs in.
“The 2020 Olympics is the one. I know I can very easily make that, I spar with the best girls and I know what level I’m at.
“It would be out of this world to go there. Even just thinking about it is amazing, there are moments where I might be training and it will just come across my mind.
“Throughout boxing I’ve had people tell me no, because I’m a girl or because I’m too young, but there I am in the ring.”
Caroline's stellar year will conclude alongside illustrious company as one of the final three nominees for SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award – selected from around 1,000 rising British stars supported by the charity across more than 60 sports.
The Award was launched in 2006 with double Olympic medallist and diving world champion Tom Daley the inaugural winner.
The boxer was blown away to find out she had originally made the exclusive 10-strong shortlist for a second year running and is keen to point out the pivotal role SportsAid and the Backing the Best programme, supported by Sport England, have played in her nascent career.
She added: “I had the nomination last year as well, to be told I have that is a really big deal for me, particularly to be recognised for two years in a row.
“SportsAid have helped a lot, when you go to big competitions like a World Championships or Youth Olympic Games, training camps which are usually quite far away and the travelling is very expensive.
“I’m very grateful for their help, the travelling takes its toll but SportsAid helps make that so much easier.
“The nomination lets you know you’re in the right place and on track, people are recognising you and seeing you’re one to watch.”
To dub Caroline as ‘on track’ rather downplays a record that currently reads 35 fights, 35 wins – with respected BBC broadcaster Mike Costello labelling her as “the best female boxer” he has ever seen.
It's a statement the Londoner is aware of but not fazed by, a tag of expectation one she is relishing the longer the unblemished record goes. But don’t let that be confused with fear of the unknown.
“The thought of losing scares me – before I fight I fear it, but when I take to the ring it all disappears,” she adds.
“But you don’t just want to win you want to perform well – someone is always going to be working just as hard so you need to keep pushing on.
“You always have the thought that you could lose but that gives you the drive, you might be in a tight fight and the fact that you’re undefeated gives you a little boost to keep up the proud record.”
Even in victory there is an unerring Caroline desire to improve, instantly watching back her Youth Olympic gold-medal winning performance in order to plot the route to win number 36.
“I’m a harsh critic on myself and I can always see things that I can improve on – even if I win a fight easily.
“I’m a perfectionist, to be at the level I want to be at, you have to be a perfectionist. But if you watch me, you can definitely tell I can box.”
Even when pretending to be Colin, there was never any doubting that.
The winner of SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award will be revealed at the charity’s annual SportsBall, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, in London on Thursday 15 November. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk for further information.
PHOTO CREDIT - BUENOS AIRES 2018