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Quebec boxer wins ESPN award for public service in COVID-19 crisis

Click to play video 'Canadian boxer Kim Clavel drops gloves, picks up scrubs to help seniors' Canadian boxer Kim Clavel drops gloves, picks up scrubs to help seniors
WATCH ABOVE: Canadian boxer Kim Clavel was on the cusp of boxing in her first main event when COVID-19 hit. But as a trained nurse, she traded in her boxing gloves for medical gloves to help those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Mike Armstrong reports.

When the biggest bout of boxer Kim Clavel’s career was cancelled in March due to COVID-19 she thought her entire career trajectory was going off the rails.

Yet instead of a setback, the time-off led to a major award and boosted Clavel’s profile with coverage by media across North America from CNN to People Magazine.

READ MORE: Quebec records no new coronavirus deaths for 1st time since March

Clavel was awarded ESPN’s Pat Tillman Award for Service Sunday night in a ceremony carried online. The normally star-studded “ESPY” awards show was cancelled due to COVD-19.

The award is a surprising turn for the 29-year-old from Joliette, Que., who had taken a sabbatical from her job as a registered nurse to concentrate on boxing and setting herself up for a title bout later this year.

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“It was my first main event,” Clavel says. “It was big. It was an opponent that was going to put me on the international scene.”

Click to play video 'The Quebec boxer making an impact in more than just the boxing ring' The Quebec boxer making an impact in more than just the boxing ring
The Quebec boxer making an impact in more than just the boxing ring

After her March 21 fight was cancelled, she says she let herself cry for about a day and a half, but then knew she had to help.

“I’m not the sort of person who can sit at home and do nothing,” Clavel says. “I wanted to make a difference, so I sent my CV everywhere.”

Clavel is a registered nurse, but her normal job was in a maternity ward bringing babies into the world. Suddenly, she found herself jumping from one residence to another, watching seniors take their last breath.

“The first month was the hardest, because I saw a lot of people die,” she says. “One or two people each day. I never expected that.”

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There were days where Clavel says she felt like the was living a nightmare. Some facilities were so short-staffed she would find herself alone overnight caring for close to 30 patients. People were dying not only due to complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but because they weren’t being fed properly or given enough water. The little staff that was there couldn’t keep up.

“You run your entire shift,” she says.

READ MORE: Canada’s coronavirus cases surpass 101K mark with Ontario, Quebec leading new cases

Clavel worked in so many residences she lost count. She can only say it was about nine or 10. She only worked in hot zones with patients who’d contracted COVID-19. She administered medication, cleaned patients, and did anything else that had to be done, pushing herself to limits she didn’t know she could reach.

One of the biggest challenges was that many of the patients were also dealing with the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“They didn’t understand the situation,” Clavel says. “You had to be a nurse and a psychologist.”

The Pat Tillman Award is named after the former NFL player who left behind a promising career in football and joined the military in 2002. The Arizona Cardinals safety enlisted with his brother, inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Tillman was killed in 2004 in a friendly fire incident.

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Clavel received the award in a video Sunday that included a recorded message by actress Halle Berry.

“Kim’s story is inspiring, and it’s one of service and great courage,” Berry says.

Clavel is now back training for another fight. She’s in isolation at a cottage north of Montreal with her coaches preparing for a bout in July in Las Vegas.

She’s hungry to step back into the ring, but has been left shocked and honoured by the award.

“When I went back to work, I never thought about visibility or anything,” she says. “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t even know how!”