Langley’s Sarah Pucek has battled –– and overcome –– mental health issues, and found clarity in boxing. The Langley City Boxing product holds both the Canadian featherweight and the British Commonwealth championships, and has her sights set on a world title shot sometime in 2017.

Champ opens up about mental health

Langley's Sarah Pucek said boxing and exercise have helped her stay focused and happy.

Sarah Pucek is eloquent, amiable, and effervescent.

She also happens to be really good at punching people in the face and body.

The Langley resident is a world-class pro boxer, the holder of not only the Canadian women’s featherweight belt, but also the prestigious Commonwealth championship, a title she captured in a 10-round war with Montreal’s Lucia Larcinese at Langley’s Coast Hotel ballroom in September.

Now, she’s setting her sights on a world title bout, sometime in 2017.

You could say boxing saved Pucek.

Lounging on a small leather couch at Revolution Gym, the lean, blond pugilist spoke thoughtfully, opening up about the mental health issues she battled, mostly during her teen years.

Years ago, with guidance from her longtime trainer/manager Dave Allison, Pucek found her balance under the bright, hot lights of the squared circle.

“She trusts me and will talk to me about these things, and it is the relationship between us, in a boxer/trainer relationship (that) she feels has kept her on track and allowed her to recover,” Allison said.

Pucek suffered from anxiety and body image issues as a teen.

From time to time, the anxiousness that stifled her years ago will surface again.

“I still have anxiety,” the 29-year-old Pucek admitted.

“That’s my main struggle, is I still have anxiety. When I’m in a large social setting, I’m a pretty outgoing person but if there is a lot of people… I don’t know, I can get really anxious. It’s more than just (being) shy. I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes.”

Therein lies the irony.

Facing a foe whose sole purpose is to hit you repeatedly, doesn’t put Pucek on edge.

But put her in a roomful of strangers, and it’s an entirely different scenario.

“I don’t think about boxing stuff, it’s the little, stupid things in my life that I can’t get out of my head and it kind of just takes over my thoughts,” Pucek said.

She admits she will take on “way too much” at one time, which only exacerbates the problem.

But for Pucek, training, and in particular running, releases endorphins that help clear her mind.

“The big reason I love running is, it’s like my meditation,” Pucek said.

“I’m never thinking about my problems when I’m running. And afterwards, I feel awesome. You can focus your negative energy and use it in a beneficial way.”

Pucek’s body image issues appear to be a thing of the past.

Thanks in large part to the discipline and diet that go hand-in-hand with her chosen sport, Pucek has maintained the same weight for the past decade.

And even though she’s always been athletic and into sports, Pucek began having body image issues in her mid-teens.

“There was family stuff happening and I kind of got obsessed with brands and super models,” Pucek related. “I had always loved sports but when I was in Grade 12, I played volleyball but I didn’t play any other sports. The main reason was, honestly, because I didn’t have any muscles or anything. It started when I was 16 and just got progressively worse.”

This led to depression, even suicidal thoughts. Back then, Pucek never envisioned a future.

“I never really tried hard in school; I just kind of got by. I never failed anything but I never, ever tried anything other than sports,” Pucek said.

Pucek was treated for depression between the ages of 18 and 20 and took medication to treat her condition.

“I definitely needed medication to help me but that’s also when I found boxing,” Pucek said.

“When I started boxing, I started to see that all this hard work is starting to pay off. I became more focused, I started getting better at my job – I started to apply (boxing) to all these other areas of my life.”

Today, she’s taking university courses, with a goal of possibly becoming a teacher.

“I learned in boxing,” she said, “by doing these little steps you can achieve really big things. It’s not just with boxing, it’s that way in every aspect of life. That’s pretty cool, I think.”

Mentor role

At the Revolution Gym on the Langley Bypass Pucek is mentoring 10-year-old Bailey Fletcher.

“I love it,” Pucek said about training with the Aldergrove girl.

“She (Bailey) gets enough conditioning, so it’s mostly just technique and footwork. She’s actually incredible. She’s so focused and determined. She kind of reminds me of myself in a way, when I was a little kid, so that’s why I like working with her. I was a gritty kid who would never cry.”

The term ‘role model’ makes Pucek squirm in her seat a bit.

“I don’t think I’m a role model, per se, but I think I can help her focus better and help her see how far she can take herself.”

Pucek said she might not be boxing all that much longer “because I don’t want to get hit in the head that much more,” but she would love to coach young girls.

“I just like working with kids,” Pucek said. “And as much as I can teach them stuff, they can teach me a lot, too.”