For Team BW, one of the few highs from a largely disappointing Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was Lethabo Modukanele’s history-making exploits in the ring.
The diminutive 26-year-old punched her way into the record books in stunning style, securing a brilliant bronze to become the first female boxer to win a Commonwealth medal for Botswana.
In beating Sri Lanka’s Nadeeka Pushpamukari to a place on the podium, the Mahalapye native ended a 12-year drought for a BW boxing medal at the CW dating back to Delhi 2010.
Having only taken up the sport in 2016, when, as a student at the University of Botswana (UB) she wanted something worthwhile to fill up her free time, Modukanele’s rise up the ranks is nothing short of sensational.
Boasting a 100 percent record in local bouts, the Minimumweight fighter now has her sights set firmly on Olympic qualification…
Congratulations on your Birmingham Bronze. How does it feel to make history?
Thank you! It feels amazing; I’m so honored and blessed to have made history.
Like I keep telling people, it’s not the medal I wanted but it’s what I got and I’m still stoked.
How did you sleep the night before your bronze medal match?
I spent the night meditating, visualizing and praying.
It’s important to be in the right mind space before a fight, so that’s what I was doing all night before sleeping.
I also find it helpful to talk to a few people who encourage and remind me of my awesomeness (giggling).
So I talked to them before the meditations and what not.
After that I slept quite well.
Take us through the events of that momentous day?
Gosh…Woke up that morning and weighed at around 6.45am.
Afterwards I finally got some food and liquids in me.
After breakfast, I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until around noon – my fight was at 7pm local time if I’m not mistaken.
From then onwards I spent the day mentally preparing: meditating, praying, visualizing and reaffirming.
The time came for the fight and I kept on doing all these things until the bell rang.
And then the fight itself…
So the fight starts and it was intense and very emotional for me.
I took the first round which was great, lost the second round and so going into the third I had to really pick up the work rate; I really had to psych myself up, which is where it got emotional.
Thinking about how bad I need that gold and facing the possibility of it slipping away was overwhelming.
With the support of my teammates in the stands shouting for me to work, I had to grit my teeth and put everything I had into it.
This first fight got me into the semi’s, where I had a chance to go further and change the medal but unfortunately I lost.
After a fight I like to find time to be alone and just reflect, which I did for both fights.
Then of course eat some good food, take a long shower/bath and sleep.
If it’s possible, I will also do hot and cold water treatment/recovery.
What was going through your mind as they put the bronze round your neck?
A lot was going through my mind. It was a bittersweet moment.
On the one hand, I was all too happy to be on that podium; very, very appreciative of what had been achieved.
But on the other I was being hard on myself for not being in the center of it as number one.
The most prominent feeling, however, was the former.
Where is the medal now?
The medal is on display in the living room.
(Laughs) We honestly need to get a proper display stand/case for our awards molapeng (at home).
I understand the UK is in the middle of a heatwave – how did you find the weather that side?
I can only remember it ever being actually hot for one day during the month I was there.
I was ALWAYS COLD! I kept telling them, gore they don’t have a summer that side.
I believe if you’re from Africa especially from these desert/Saharan climates, their summer is a joke (laughing).
Did you struggle to understand the notorious Brummie accent?
Nah, had no challenges communicating.
What has the reaction been like since you got back home?
Family and friends are all so happy for me which I appreciate dearly.
Batswana le kea ba bona, they’re sending their support which I appreciate so much.
Otherwise things are pretty much normal.
Where do you need to improve to take the next step in your career – i.e make it to the gold medal matches?
I need a lot of sparring and even more competition.
The more we compete the better I know we will get.
Take us through a normal day of training for you.
Training differs day to day and week to week.
Whatever is done depends on different factors like if there’s a competition soon, weight management, strength training etc.
However, in the mornings a lot of the time it’s cardio or endurance training and sometimes strength training.
Then the evenings are for conditioning/technique.
How and when did you get into Boxing?
I started boxing in 2016 while I was a student at the University of Botswana.
Needed a change in my life at that point coz I felt there had to be more out there than just going to school then going home and sleeping.
Initially I thought of joining a club like the Environmental Club but then thought to myself why not do something that keeps me productive and fit and will allow me to achieve big things.
I figured sports would be the best path for me and set out on a goal of getting to the Olympics and winning gold (chuckles).
Went through the sports list at school and settled on boxing…and we’re here today!
It’s not a common sport for the girl child to take up – how did your family react?
My family was extremely supportive; slightly surprised but they’ve always been supportive.
I actually didn’t tell them for about a month or two just in case it was a passing phase but once I realised I was invested I told them.
And when did you realise you had what it takes to represent the country?
I dunno how to answer this one. All I knew when I started boxing is that I want to get to the Olympics and I had to do that through hard work.
I came in knowing absolutely nothing about the sport except that it was my ticket to the Olympics.
There has never been a time where I realised anything just that I want to get to the Olympics.
You fight in the 45-48kg category, the minimum weight division – how do you maintain such a weight?
Before Covid stopped everything for two years, I had absolutely no problems with my weight.
I could eat and drink the night before a fight and still be underweight.
Now, ever since we began competing again, it’s a different story.
I really have to manage it well, watch what I eat but it’s not uncontrollable or extremely difficult for me to manage it.
Before your Birmingham heroics, what had you achieved in the sport?
Never lost a fight in Botswana! I’m a two-time Zone 4 Gold medalist.
What else do you want to achieve?
Next up this year is the African Boxing Championship.
I’m hopeful Botswana will get a chance to participate wherever they’re held.
The biggest goal is the Olympics.
I failed to qualify last time; I hope to make the next Games!
Where do you train?
I train at UB/Tsholofelo Boxing Club.
My head coach there is Lechedzani Master Luza, assistant coach is Nthaba Nlanda.
Boxing is quite a brutal sport – mentally, how do you handle the stress of having to punch someone for a living? Have you ever knocked an opponent out? What about being knocked out yourself?
You just get used to it you know.
I mean you’re taught to defend yourself…to attack and so on so you use your skills to protect yourself.
In this sport you can’t be worried about your opponent either.
In fact the mission is to dominate so they must take care of themselves because they have been taught the same skills.
I have a few TKO’s [Technical Knock-Out] and RSC’s [Referee Stopped Contest].
I myself have also been RSC’d before – just once though!
Do you work, study, or are you a full-time boxer?
Yes I work full-time, boxing is a part-time activity for me.
I have to take care of myself since boxing doesn’t pay much! I work at the Ministry of Health as a Procurement Officer.
Let’s get a little personal. Can you tell us a bit about Lethabo outside the ring? Hobbies, likes, dislikes etc
I enjoy reading books, hanging around with friends and I dislike lazy people.
I don’t like people who are not team players and dislike people who don’t respect time; you have to be in everything that you do in life.
Speaking of time, do you have time for a love life or are you too focused on sport?
(Long awkward silence)…
Haha fair enough. Do you have a boxing nickname? The Voice have christened you ‘The Bronze Bomber’!
Not really but people just call me Letty, it’s not much of a crowd pulling nickname.
But I do like this Bronze Bomber nickname, it has that nice ring to it.
Our sub-editor will be delighted! What advice can you give to a girl child who wants to take up boxing or has recently started?
I could say stay strong, keep going, keep pushing, because it is very tough.
Boxing is very taxing emotionally; mentally and physically it will take a lot from you.
You need to tell yourself that you can do it and that you a strong.
From all at Voice Sport, you are a true inspiration! And on the note, Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
Nothing interesting, quite boring really.
I might be at work – as you know I have been away for some time and I need to catch up.
If I get a chance, I might also do some gardening; my garden suffered while I was away.
I must also go through my closet to get rid of some old clothes and see where I can donate them.
Lastly, sleep! whatever chance I get I am going to use to sleep because I’m tired.