Punching Above our Weight

 Jo Simpson has been boxing for 7 years now.

Jo Simpson has been boxing for 7 years now.

The phrase “it’s a man’s world” has never been truer than when you set foot into a boxing ring. Many believe it should be a sport only for men; there are no niceties or flattery, emotions run high and the risks are ever present. When girls try to break into the sport they are accused of being too fragile and emotional or at the other end of the spectrum, butch and unfeminine. Why would women contemplate boxing, putting themselves in harm’s way and subject to abuse? With changing perceptions on what the modern women should be is there room for females in the world of boxing or are we constantly just trying to punch above our weight?

A few years ago I watched a report on women’s boxing and thought these girls must be nuts. I couldn’t understand the attraction of boxing and found their muscular forms unappealing. Fast forward to today and I’ve been dabbling in boxing for just over three years now. One white collar fight under my belt, chalked up a nasty case of concussion and find myself teetering on the decision as to whether to return to the ring! For a high intensity sports addict like me there is no exercise that comes close, but I struggle with the mentality that boxers should adopt. Boxing is a raw, honest sport and whilst I’ve no doubt women can be physically strong enough to compete I wonder if our emotions will always make us the weaker opponent? 

 Coach Tony Burt preps Calli Bushell for a fight.

Coach Tony Burt preps Calli Bushell for a fight.

Training for a fight takes hard work and dedication. Boxing most days, a strict diet to be at your best and keeping a constant eye on your weight can all take its toll. The issue of weight management and body issue is always a prickly one for women. No one wants to disappoint coaches or themselves by not achieving their goals, which can sometimes see fighters having to shed 4kg in a day and it’s easy to start to feel judged by your weight and for it to consume your life. It helps that ideals of femininity are starting to change, you only have to look in the media to see a gravitation to more healthy role models and a trend towards strong being the new skinny. Plus you’re never on the journey alone.

 Wearing a sweat suit in the tub to lose those last few pounds.

Wearing a sweat suit in the tub to lose those last few pounds.

Most of the girls I box with love the training, but keep coming back for the sense of family at the gym. There is a culture of helping each other, sharing tips on diet, technique and they are always keen to meet up outside of the gym for moral support. For an individual sport, you are anything but and are always considered one of a team. Yes, we are prone to a hissy fit or two, and nearly all of us admit to having cried at some point out of anger or frustration.

But to counter the emotional outbursts (which could, but should not deter from our talents) is our faultless dedication to the sport. For some reason when women commit to something, they do it so much better than our male counterparts! Is it because women feel they have so much more to prove in a male arena? They ALWAYS want to train, learn and fight and will happily contribute their own money to travel to competitions and to gain the vital experience necessary to improve. Speaking candidly about boxing, the girls admit that often it is difficult to find the balance so that boxing does not completely take over their lives.

 Anna Somma trains with a female partner.

Anna Somma trains with a female partner.

So why, despite all these struggles, do women continue to box? For those at Jersey Leonis it is a chance to train hard towards tangible goals with like-minded people. They are club members irrespective of gender, supported by men and women alike and are part of an elite - boxing is not for everyone. Some describe it as therapeutic; the intensity and pressure of performance meaning that for those two minute rounds everything else has to be blocked out. It’s a form of escapism. 

They lament over the journey; the constant dieting, weight-watching and heavy training schedule but the goal is always worth it. Boxing has taught them how to cope with issues such as body dysmorphia, anger management and feelings of low self-worth, it teaches them how to fail or simply that the result doesn’t really matter; it’s the performance that counts.  

 Some of the girls of Jersey Leonis.

Some of the girls of Jersey Leonis.

For myself, I train to become more thick-skinned. When you fight the only person to rely on is yourself and I constantly doubt whether I’m enough. It’s about facing a lot of self-esteem issues, which are often masked by my competitive nature, learning that the most important judge is the one inside of me and finding the courage to pick myself up each time I get knocked down.