Mariah Bahe knows what it takes to have an entire community on her back.
Born and raised in a small town of the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the United States, the teenager started boxing competitively when she was only eight.
Now she wants to become the first female Native American to compete in the Olympic Games at Paris 2024.
“My dream is to be there and compete there and say I've been there,” she told the Olympic Channel. “But my biggest dream is to win at the Olympics.”
Bahe, the youngest of five children, inherited the boxing genes.
Her four brothers boxed at the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym following a long boxing tradition that began with their great grandfather.
When she was five, she convinced her father and trainer- John Calvin Bahe Jr.- to let her train at the family gym, one of the few boxing clubs in the vast reservation located across Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
“My dad always said no, and was like, ‘you going to be a girl and do cheerleading, volleyball. You are not going to box’.”
Once Mariah began throwing punches, it was a natural move.
She got hooked and showed her potential to become one of the greatest female boxers from the American indigenous tribe.
“When I win, when I lose, I feel powerful in a way and I feel really confident in myself.”- Mariah Bahe on her love for boxing.
Her determination and humbling rise from difficult circumstances inspired an Olympic Channel's original film - Mariah: A Boxer’s Dream, available now on Olympic Channel.
Ahead of the December 3rd launch, we spoke with the 16-year-old on overcoming prejudices, hardships as she works towards achieving one of her greatest dreams, to become an Olympian.
Check out the interview below that has been shortened and edited for clarity.
The fight to box
Olympic Channel: When and how did you get into boxing?
Mariah Bahe: I started training when I was five. I'm the only girl with four older brothers, so I wasn't really picked to fight for boxing. I saw my brothers do it and I was so fascinated by it and I was like, if they can do it, maybe I can do it better or just try it.
My dad always said no, and was like, ‘you going to be a girl and do cheerleading, volleyball. You are not going to box’.
My mum and I would always told him to let me box. We fought for maybe a year. And then I finally started training and I had my first fight when I was eight.
OC: Were you nervous ahead of your first bout?
MB: The night before, I was excited, I didn't really think much of it because I was just eight. But I remember like a minute before I got into the ring, I was crying because I was so scared, and my mum had to calm me down. And then I finally got on (the ring) and everything just went away. I fought but lost.
But it was a really nice fight.
OC: What did you take away from your first ever fight?
MB: Basically, through the three rounds me and her (opponent) we just stood there and started brawling with each other. We were just hitting and hitting each other for a minute straight and after losing, I learned I have to start moving instead of just standing there.
OC: How was your dad’s reaction to your first bout?
MB: He was really happy. I don't think he ever imagined me fighting, so he was just really happy with the outcome and everything.
"When I win or lose, I feel powerful"- Mariah Bahe
OC: How many bouts have you faced and which was your favorite?
MB: I have fought about 50.
My best would probably be this year's Silver Gloves Nationals, because, I really like the tournament and I'm glad that I have won it for two years straight.
This year it was just really nice, I felt more comfortable, my head was clear. I keep watching that bout and I'm like, ‘OK, that was really nice, and I really liked it’.
OC: What do you like about boxing?
MB: I like how it makes me feel.
When I win, when I lose, I feel powerful in a way and I feel really confident in myself. I would say it has given me discipline, self-control and more confidence in myself.
I would say being a boxer is an advantage for me in a way too at home, because whenever I say I want to go to the gym, we just go, we don't have to ask anybody.
I feel like this is my sport and I always feel like I am meant to be in that ring. I just need to keep my head straight and stay focused in my fights.- Mariah Bahe.
OC: How is it having your dad as a coach?
MB: When we're at home, I'm the baby, I'm spoiled. I'm being given basically whatever I want. But in the gym, we switch roles. He has to become a coach and not my dad.
So it's really different in the gym than it is at home. I would say he's a tough coach.
He's not really used to like getting mad at girls because I'm the only girl and he doesn't really get mad at me at home.
But in the gym, he can yell at me all the time and, get mad at me when I am doing something wrong.
OC: You train at a gym that bears your surname, the Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym, one of the few gyms in the Navajo Nation. How special is this?
MB: I'm really happy to be training here in this gym than anywhere else. My great grandfather, he was in the army and was an all service champion for boxing there.
And when he came back to the reservation, he taught it to my grandpa and my grandpa loved it so much. So he continued to teach his kids, my dad, uncles and my auntie. And when my grandpa passed, my dad took over the team and he’s been the head coach ever since.
The Olympic dream
OC: When did you start thinking about training with the aim of qualifying for the Olympics some day?
MB: Last night, I was asking my parents, because I don't really remember and my dad said when I was 10 or 11, I started asking him about the Olympics and ever since then, he told me that I've been telling him I am going to play at the Olympics and I am going to be on Team USA.
And there is always been this poster in my gym of three women just standing there.
I asked them who they are and about the Olympics, and that's when it started.
OC: What would you want to achieve at the Olympics?
MB: My dream is to be there, compete there and say I've been there. Just to compete at that level will be amazing for me.
But my biggest dream is to win at the Olympics.
With Clarissa she won the Olympics twice, which is really amazing.
An inspiration to other girls to pursue sporting dreams
OC: Do you feel the Olympic Channel’s Original Series Mariah: A boxer’s dream that beautifully captures your boxing story and dreams will inspire other young girls around the world chasing sporting aspirations?
MB: I think it will give them a lot of hope, a lot of love for me and what I've been doing for the past 10 years. And hopefully show them that they can do anything that they put their mind to.
I hope it will open more doors for other females, Native Americans, because they'll see that I did it and they'll give them the inspiration of hope and motivation to do it.
Me being the first Native American female to do this gives me a lot of motivation and inspiration to keep working towards it and to reach that goal.
OC: What would tell other girls who feel like they are struggling to punch above their weight?
MB: I would tell them basically where I'm from, from the reservation and that I'm proud to be from Navajo and hold this high standard of myself and raise a high bar for other Native Americans.
You don't have to just keep bearing in your mind that, ‘I am from the Navajo reservation... No, I can't do that!’
Keep going with everything you have got until you got it.- Mariah Bahe.
OC: What has kept you going?
MB: My first motivation is my family. They are always with me in every decision I make.
My mum is stricter than my dad. She's always on me about everything. She nags me to go run, to go workout, go to do weights, my pushups and all that.
But outside of the gym, we are really close and she's my best friend, I can tell her anything we can joke around, we can fight each other without actually hurting one another.
For my dad, it's just usually the two of us traveling the world together and we're always picking on each other, throwing each other in bushes.
I have a close connection with my parents.
My brothers too are competitive with everything that we have, I don't think they ever thought that I would be this successful in boxing, but, without them, I wouldn't be this good.
They're always there to spar with me and then nag on me and then, like, pick on me through the whole time.
And they know my weaknesses, how to get me mad in the gym. But at home it's different. I never thought that I would be this close to my brothers. It's amazing to have four role models at home.
Also, the Navajo Nation, they're always sending me messages of motivation, saying I'm their inspiration and I have to keep going every day. I get like five messages like that daily. So, I just have to keep going.
I get messages saying, ‘You inspire me and, you just got to keep going...I'm their inspiration every day, you gotta get the Olympics…’ they're always messaging me and saying that when they come up to me.
These messages keep me motivated, keep me grounded and keep me going. The Navajo nation are supportive of me and everything I'm doing. I try to keep being a normal person, so they see that, I'm not like so far in the clouds.
I never thought that I would hold these titles. I never thought I would be inspiration to like 30, 40-year-olds, to get in the gym and what not.
The strongest punch
OC: Which is your strongest punch?
MB: I would say any punch from my left hand. I feel comfortable with my left and I think it's the dominant, and stronger than my right hand. Most boxers have a predominantly strong right hand, but I know I have more skills on my left than my right hand.
OC: What else do you enjoy besides boxing?
MB: I run cross country and track for my high school. I'm always in the top three for my team at the state. I like running. I also just enjoy being with my family and spending every time I can with them.
I like eating pizza and frybread, that’s a Native American food. It’s made from dough then fried in hot oil. It’s really sweet.
I also like being around animals and taking care of them. I rear dogs, cats, three chicken, two turkeys and two ducks.
OC: Do you have any other ambitions outside the ring?
MB: I want to go with the Air Force and join their boxing team. But I would say outside of it, I would be I want to be a pilot, and probably after that I'm looking into being a police officer.
My mom was always interested in law enforcement, I guess somehow, I got into it with that and I think a police officer would be great here in the Navajo Nation and all around America.
Watch the full film, 'Mariah: A Boxer's Dream' for free and without subscription on Olympic Channel here.