He gets teased by his coach, laughs it off, and keeps at it.
Sanford has a big goal in mind and he’s funnelling all of his energy into achieving it.
Sanford wants to box at the Olympic Games, just like his coach did.
Sanford, 18, currently lives in Kennetcook but does much of his training in Sackville, Dartmouth, Bedford and other surrounding communities.
“I’m not scared to try and beat the odds,” Sanford said, clapping his hands between some words. “I am going to give it my 150 per cent and I’ll prove people wrong by actually overcoming those odds and actually doing it.”
Sanford has been actively involved in boxing now for eight years and is considered one of the best boxers in Atlantic Canada.
“One of my friends got me into it and after that, me and my brothers fell in love with the sport, and just kept doing it,” he said.
“A big impact is the people I surround myself with, my coaches, my mom, my father,” Sanford said.
“My community probably has the hugest, biggest impact on me. It’s always a pleasure going to the small community that I do live in and seeing the parents, the kids coming up saying ‘hi’,” he said. “They’re telling me to keep it up, asking me about my trips, my fights. It really keeps me motivated to keep going so I can come back with more stories to tell them.”
Sanford does almost all of his training away from his home community, mainly because there aren’t any facilities nearby, but he shakes that off.
“It’s no challenge to me, I love doing it,” he said.
Three time Canadian champ
While Sanford talks about his experiences at the Tribal Boxing Club in Dartmouth, a couple of other members skip rope and punch boxing bags in the large open space.
A friendly black dog also wanders around the building, enthusiastically looking for pets.
Sanford has had 75 fights, recording 60 wins and 15 losses.
“I’m a three time Canadian champion, a one time silver Canadian champion, and I won the World Ringside Championships once and I’ve placed four silvers at it as well,” he said.
“Not too bad so far,” he said with a laugh.
Sanford wants to make the Summer Olympic Games, either in 2020 or 2024 — or both.
“I’m just starting with a strength and conditioning coach now, and I’m starting some new workout programs, including really good sparring in Niagara Falls,” he said.
Sanford said there aren’t as many sparring opportunities in Nova Scotia, so traveling across the country is inevitable.
“I’m trying to make a dream become a reality, I’m trying to fulfil a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I’ve got three to seven years to make this happen, and what motivates me to go there is knowing that I’m one of the highest performing athletes.”
Strong team spirit
Ever humble, Sanford says he’s not doing this alone, pointing to his coaches and family as big supporters.
“The people that I’m with are a perfect group,” he said, with emphasis on the word perfect. “It might be me in the ring but there are so many others outside it that got me there.”
Between now and the Olympics, Sanford still has plenty of tournaments and championships to contend with.
His coach, Wayne Gordon, competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was part of the coaching staff following that from 1992 to 2000.
Gordon comes from a family of boxers that helped put Nova Scotia on the map in the boxing world.
“At the time, the sport of boxing was monopolized by Quebec, Ontario and Vancouver and my father came here and realized there were so many good fighters that have been kept in the dark,” Gordon said. “My father helped found Boxing Canada and formed Boxing Nova Scotia, opening things to a bit more of a level playing field.”
He said they still struggle to this day when it comes to funding and resources.
“We treat our athletes, especially in Nova Scotia, like Third World athletes. We want them to compete at the highest level, but don’t give them the funding they need,” Gordon said.
Despite the challenges, Gordon says he continues to push Sanford as hard as he can to get him ready for a try at the Olympic Games.
“We like to have fun obviously,” he said. “He’s hard working, he’s dedicated, but those aren’t his best qualities. His best quality is that he’s fearless.”
Gordon said Sanford stood out right from the beginning.
“When he first began boxing there was something about him that made me think he was different,” Gordon said. “It was not his aggression, it was not his work ethic, it was just something about him.”
Gordon says pressure or odds do not phase Sanford, even if he’s the underdog.
“If you look at the number of athletes who make it to the Olympic Games, it is by far a small number,” he said. “But if you dream it you can believe it.”
Hearing this, Sanford cut in, saying it was his goal.
“No, a dream is something that if you get or not, it doesn’t matter because it’s a dream,” Sanford said.
“A goal is something if you work hard enough, motivate yourself enough, that it will happen,” he explained.
“It’s not a dream, it’s a goal.”