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Choi Hyun-mi, teen boxing champ, spurs fellow North Korean defectors to keep fighting

Choi Hyun-mi, who fled to South Korea as a girl and soon won a world boxing championship, has helped boost the morale of fellow North Korean defectors who continue to struggle in their adopted country.

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In this 2004 file photo shows champion boxer Choi Hyun-mi (left), a 14 year old North Korean female boxer.

Nayan Sthankiya/File

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For the thousands of North Korean defectors living in hardship around the world, champion boxer Choi Hyun-mi has become their Mohammad Ali.

The young woman who fled from North Korea has become one of South Korea’s most revered faces since winning the 2008 featherweight championship of the World Boxing Association, a title she still holds today.

Her promoters call her the “Defector Boxer Girl,” and the media have dubbed her the “Million Dollar Baby” from North Korea, a reference to the 2004 film starring Hillary Swank about a boxer who rises from penury to fame.

“She overcame all the difficulties and achieved her dreams, though she might have faced discrimination as North Korean woman,” says Kim Kyung-soo, a defector in Seoul, using an alias because he fears government reprisals against his family still in North Korea. “She motivates me to get over the difficulties in front of me.”

Taking punches

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