Montreal

Quebec boxer who traded gloves for scrubs when COVID-19 struck gets Tillman Award

Kim Clavel, the North American Boxing Federation light-flyweight champion at work as an auxiliary nurse on the front lines of the pandemic, has been named winner of the Pat Tillman Award for Service.

'Kim personifies the spirit of service, duty and selflessness that Pat embodied,' says widow of NFL player

Kim Clavel, 29, says she is young, healthy and feels like helping people is something she has to do. (Vincent Ethier/Eye of the Tiger Management)

Quebec's Kim Clavel, the North American Boxing Federation light-flyweight champion who returned to nursing when the global pandemic interrupted her fighting career, has been named winner of the Pat Tillman Award for Service.

The award, which commemorates the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger, is to be presented at the 2020 ESPY Awards show on June 21. Established in 2014, the award honours an individual "with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Tillman's legacy."

"Choosing to return to the front lines of health care amid an unprecedented global pandemic, Kim personifies the spirit of service, duty and selflessness that Pat embodied," Marie Tillman, Tillman's widow who serves board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, said in a statement.

"In spite of the dangers from COVID and delays to her budding boxing career, Kim chose to focus her energy on those most in need. In Pat's name, we are honoured to present the Tillman Award to Kim for her service and leadership in her health-care work and throughout this crisis."

The 29-year-old Clavel, who made her pro boxing debut in December 2017, took a year-long leave from the Lanaudière regional hospital centre in her hometown of Joliette last August to focus on fighting after six years on the job.

Clavel (11-0-0 with two knockouts) won a unanimous decision over Mexico's Esmeralda Gaona Sagahon in December in Montreal to claim the vacant NABF 108-pound title.

Clavel was scheduled to face former WBC and IFC champion Esmeralda Moreno in a non-title fight in the main event of a Montreal show March 21. It was supposed to be Clavel's first main event with her new promoter, Yvon Michel.

"It was really an important fight," said Clavel, who brought in sparring partners from Mexico to prepare. "I had a big, big training camp. I spent a lot of money on it."

But the card was cancelled a week in advance, and Clavel swapped her boxing gloves for nursing scrubs.

"A different fight," said Clavel, who started work the same day she was supposed to enter the ring.

The boxer said the fight cancellation initially saddened her. But she saw things differently after a couple of days.

"I said to myself, 'OK, I'm healthy, I have two arms, two legs, and I can make a difference. I want to do it,"' she said.

So she contacted the provincial government and sent her resume out "everywhere."

"They called me back really fast," she said. "I went to work on the 21st."

Kim Clavel traded in her boxing gloves for nursing scrubs on March 21 and has continued her work as an auxiliary nurse at various Montreal long-term care homes throughout the pandemic (Submitted by Kim Clavel)

Since then, Clavel has worked as a nurse at several long-term care centres in Montreal — often pulling night shifts.

It has not always been easy work.

"They don't understand the situation," she said of some of her patients.

Others have enriched Clavel's life.

"I know I can help them, but they help me, too," she said. "Sometimes I talk to them, and they have so much knowledge — and they like to share it with people. This is amazing."

Clavel, ranked number 3 by the WBC and IBF and number 7 by the WBA, says she plans to resume fighting when conditions allow. She is working out as best she can in the interim, from running and shadow-boxing to skipping rope and yoga.

"I do a lot of things, but it's not the same as being in the gym," she said. "But it's OK.

"I stay in shape. And when everything goes back to normal, I will not start at zero. I'm healthy right now. I'm not too heavy. I'm not far from my fight weight."

Tillman killed in Afghanistan in 2004

In the wake of 9/11, Tillman left the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the army. Family and friends established the Pat Tillman Foundation following his death in April 2004 while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.

Last year's Tillman Award winner was former U.S. marine Kirstie Ennis, who lost her leg and endured more than dozen surgeries after surviving a helicopter crash while on duty in Afghanistan.

In 2018 it went to former marine Jake Wood, who established the non-profit organization Team Rubicon that utilizes the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

Other past winners include U.S. Paralympic gold-medal sled-hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), former Notre Dame basketball player and Iraq war veteran Danielle Green (2015), U.S. Army Sgt. and Invictus Games gold medallist Elizabeth Marks (2016), and Purple Heart recipient and Invictus Games gold medallist Israel Del Toro (2017).

The Tillman Award winner is chosen by a group of ESPY producers and ESPN executives.

The ESPYS help raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993.

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