KITCHENER — When Mandy Bujold stepped into the boxing ring at the Rio Olympics on Friday, she was supported by an online community of thousands, thanks to the work of a local marketing company.
Mad Hatter Technology built the website www.mandymadness.com that is integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and features daily video updates from the Kitchener boxer, who one her opening bout against Uzbekistan's Yodgoroy Mirzaevac.
Since going live on Aug. 2, the site has attracted more than two million visitors, and pulled in 1,500 supportive messages from fans across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
This global village of online supporters is the result of an unplanned meeting between Mad Hatter director Melanie Witzell and Bujold at the Kitchener Mayor Barry Vrbanovic's State of the City Address in April. While they were chatting, Witzell learned that Bujold's website was broken — there was nothing but a blank screen.
"I thought: 'We can fix that,' " Witzell said. "What struck and resonated with me is that she is making her way in an unconventional sport for women."
Witzell asked one of Mad Hatter's developers — Alicia Thomson — to build a new site for Bujold. Thomson built a web page that engages fans, allowing them to send messages of support.
"I think that worked really, really well. It was a huge success," Thomson says.
The web developer finds many of the messages emotional, deeply felt and personal.
"I think it is really cool that she has touched so many people," Thomson says.
Anyone can read the comments at the bottom of the website's main page.
"Hey Mandy, I remember supervising you at Tim Horton's in Kitchener in the early 2000's when you were a teen and really starting to excel in your boxing career. Now look at you!!! We are all so proud of you and wish you all the best today! Really awesome to see you representing. Congrats on your achievements so far :)," wrote Christina of Kitchener.
"Good luck Mandy. I know you can do it Bring it home Gold," wrote Luis Raposo of Calgary.
Thomson is the site's moderator. Her smartphone vibrates every time someone sends a message, and it's been vibrating a lot.
"During the opening ceremonies, Mandy did an interview and the site just blew up," Thomson says. "It was really cool."
Witzell felt an immediate affinity with Bujold and did not hesitate to put Mad Hatter's resources behind the young boxer.
"We connected, we hit it off, and it just went from there," Witzell says. "She was excited about the fight, and I was excited about her excitement."
When she was younger, Mad Hatter's founder played soccer and volley ball. Witzell studied at an American university on a soccer scholarship for a year before finishing her science degree at the University of Waterloo.
She is passionate about technology and she wanted to help another woman who is blazing new ground for female athletes.
"I feel Mandy is representing women in an unconventional sport and she needs support," Witzell says. "The Mandy message is really resonating with people."