Mariah Bahe may be soft spoken around people she doesn’t know, but she draws strength in the ring you can hear, see, and feel. The 16-year-old high school junior is the star of a 15-minute Olympic Channel documentary, Mariah: A Boxer’s Dream, that debuted on Dec. 3 and showcases Bahe’s skills as one of the country’s top junior boxers, ranked second at 95 pounds and fourth at 106. In the film, you’ll see her victory at the 2020 National Silver Gloves, marking her sixth national title. Her dreams, though, are much bigger: Bahe, who is Navajo and Eastern Band Cherokee, wants to become the first Native American woman boxer to make it to the Olympic Games, Paris 2024 specifically.
Boxing runs in the family, starting with Bahe’s great grand-uncle, Lee Damon, who brought it back after his stint in the military. Her grandfather, John Calvin Bahe Sr., opened Damon-Bahe Boxing in Chinle, AZ, where Bahe’s father now teaches and Bahe trains. As documented in the film, her dad, John Calvin Bahe Jr., manages to separate his roles as parent and coach quite nicely.
Bahe put on gloves around the age of 6 despite her dad’s initial pushback — he wanted her to pick any other sport — and she remembers crying before her debut fight when she was 8 years old. She lost that match, but her nerves disappeared after the first round. “All I remember was I would always see my brothers in the ring and training, and I always thought ‘If they could do it, maybe I could do it better,'” she told POPSUGAR.
“Boxing makes me feel like I’m powerful in a way,” Bahe said. “Because no other female in Navajo Nation is doing what I’m doing, it makes me different than everybody.” She has a long journey ahead of her to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and she said that she needs to win any national tournament she can in the hopes of advancing to the Olympic trials that year.
To become the first Native American woman boxer at the Olympics would mean the world to Bahe. “It means everything I’ve worked for since I was a little girl. I know that I’m making my dreams come true, that I put the work in, and that basically anything is possible no matter where you’re from,” she explained.
Bahe continued, “When we travel, we always get those looks of ‘What are you doing here?’ and ‘You don’t belong here.’ And even from coaches and boxers, too, they always look at me and my dad as the underdogs and that we don’t belong there. And seeing that as a little girl and noticing it very young, it’s like I have to prove them wrong. And I have to work 10 times as hard just to be at the level that they are because they’re not Native American.”
“I know that I’m making my dreams come true, that I put the work in, and that basically anything is possible no matter where you’re from.”
The documentary highlights the impact Bahe has on people living on the Navajo reservation. “I basically get messages every day saying that they’re proud of me and that I need to keep going and that they really look up to me,” she further told POPSUGAR. In terms of who inspires her, she hopes to watch Andrea Medina at the Olympics next summer, who came in second at the 2020 Olympic trials. “I really like her style,” Bahe said, adding that her true favorite professional boxer has always been Mexico-born and four-division world champion Canelo Álvarez.
About five times a week, Bahe has boxing practice and also incorporates running and weightlifting sessions. She was supposed to compete at the 2020 USA Boxing National Championships this month, but the tournament has been postponed due to the pandemic.
In the ring, Bahe’s nickname is Princess, and she fights with the intensity of someone with a dream. Although she appreciates her family’s sacrifice to help support her and her goals, she doesn’t necessarily feel as though she’s boxing for them when she’s up against an opponent. “I used to think like that, but now, me being the only one in the ring, I know that I can’t,” she said. “I have to fight for myself.”
About 30 minutes before a fight, Bahe will go somewhere alone to stretch out, clear her head, and listen to music — “Icon” by Jaden Smith is her favorite pump-up song. Once she’s in the ring, she makes sure to drape herself in the Cherokee and Navajo flags. “I want them to see where I come from and that I am Native American,” she stated, “and I’m proud of it.”
Image Source: Phil Staiman / Olympic Channel