From amputee to world champion: how women’s boxing took a chance on Canadian Gracie

“I was a rebel,” says Jiliane Gracie, whose father once beat her with a frying pan. “I wasn’t afraid to tell my father it was going to get even worse if he did not listen.” On Thursday Gracie, the youngest women’s world boxing champion, took to the ring in Las Vegas to defend her World Boxing Organization welterweight title against Lilienda Blanco.

He beats me up with his arms. I have a swollen eye, my ear was bleeding, my jaw was swollen, and she was beating me to a pulp. It broke my heart to see my little one in so much pain and I could not do anything to help. Because the only thing I did was take a frying pan and pour boiling water over my father’s head. And then I hit him. With the frying pan he smashed me over the head. That is why I cannot sit on a chair when I go out in public. I can not go walking anymore. When I go to the hotel where I train with my dad, they tell me: ‘Get down so you do not get hit.’

Gracie, a 24-year-old from Montreal, Canada, began life without arms and legs after she was born without limbs. She was four years old when she was first fitted with prosthetic legs. But when her father, Maximise Belle-Soul, 45, a professional mixed martial arts fighter from Quebec, beat her as a child, she would not look at him with fear anymore. “I learned to beat him myself. He did not beat me twice, but three times. And I was just really hurt,” she says.

She grew up with a grandmother who taught her about boxing. “She taught me from the beginning, and I have fought for everything that I have today,” she says. That beginning includes fighting her mother, Marie, for custody of her two sisters, now adults, who share Gracie’s birthday. “I was taking care of them and I found out I had to live with my grandmother,” she says.

That grandmother died in 2012, just three days before Gracie’s 19th birthday. “When I lost my grandmother I was basically deserted. I felt like an orphan,” she says. So she joined up with her father, who already had one daughter, Adeline, 20, who trains with her as his own protégé. This has, thus far, been an extraordinarily fruitful training ground. “We train every day. It is a lot of work, but my father is my teacher. I know where the holes are, what I do not know, because he teaches me,” she says.

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