Mohammed Ali, Anthony Joshua, Nicola Adams, Georgina Forsyth-Read?
10 weeks ago I decided that I wanted to challenge myself, push myself so far out of my comfort zone that I could no longer see or make my way back to it. Here I am, stranded, with nothing but all that I have learnt, my body and a pair of boxing gloves.
My mouth feels like it’s been filled with glue. Thick pritt stick that’s sole purpose is to prevent me from being able to breathe. I start to panic about the fact that I can’t breathe, that I cant catch my breath whilst these punches are flying at me like I’m caught in a hail storm. Only the hail is big, and it really hurts when it hits you. I’ve never felt so out of breath in my life, so unfit. I tune back in, listen for my coach’s voice, for the chants of the people I love. ‘Move your feet G!’ I’m trying! I feel like I’m moving my feet, but he’s shouted that 10 times now so I’m guessing I’m not. It’s a blur. I feel like I’m losing. I try not to think that I’m losing, I notice she’s bleeding, maybe I’m not losing.
Every Tuesday ngiht my flatmates and I spend an hour boxing, in a room full of women, hitting bags not faces, listening to Dizzee Rascal and laughing at eachother’s technique. This space feels empowering, I leave every week feeling sweaty and strong with a sense that I am a part of something great.
‘There’s still time to sign up to White Collar ladies, 10 weeks of training and a charity boxing match at the end of it! Think about it’
‘You should do it G’
‘What?! Why should I do it?! El you’d be so good at it’
I deflect Liberty’s suggestion as we walk home, beause I think it’s silly, because I think of all the reasons that I couldn’t do it, because I’m scared.
‘I dont have time G, but Libs is right you should do it, you’d be so good’
I twiddle a leaf in my hand and I’m flattered. El’s right, she has a full-time job, uni and a brand new-boyfriend. I have one of the above and I don’t pay that much attention to it. Luckily not a new boyfriend. I imagine the bag being a person, I imagine the safety of our training room being a ring, I imagine getting hit. I stop imagining.
‘You actually have to get hit in the face though, and it’s 10 weeks of training, that sounds like a lot of sweating.’
Over dinner I read out the T’s & C’s to the girls, greeted with nothing but excitement, enthusiasm and persuasion. Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I had signed up to the first session.
Despite my anxieties and fears of actually stepping in the ring, I fancied myself as a good candidate for boxing. I loved hitting the pads and the bag. It makes me feel strong, in control, free from the busyness of my mind. I had always had a streak of aggression, a twitch to punch the wall whenever I was frustrated. But boxing as a sport rather than a recreational exercise is a whole different ball game. It takes not only physical strength but mental strength.
Sat in the corner and all I can think about is how out of breath I am. Why am I so unfit? Why can’t I swallow water? Is it normal to feel like you’re going to die? Why is Mark shouting at me? Why is she fucking winning? I silence my mind, remember to focus on the origin. Why I’m here and why I want to do this. The journey that I’ve been on to step in the ring. I spit in the bucket. It’s the pritt stick that makes it impossible to swallow. I’ve been to auditions where nerves have given me dry mouth but this is in another league. It’s like there is no moisture left in my entire body. The thought of another two rounds is exhausting. I kind of want to stand up shake her hand and say ‘Thanks but no thanks’. I remember what El said to me one night after a particularly hard training session. I lay at the end of her bed crying. ‘G if you don’t want to do it anymore, and it’s hurting, just lie down.’ Good Plan.
I reset. Steady my mind. Remind myself that I know how to box, and if not box at least hold my hands up and not get hit. You’re not fucking lying down. I feel wobbly. I feel tired. I feel like I have nothing left. Until she punches me again, the crowd screams and something inside of me shifts. I find another gear and I punch back. I’m exhausted but I’m still going. I thought I couldn’t do it but I’m still moving. I thought I was losing but I’m not. I thought I’d reached my limit, but there is no limit.
Every week, for 10 weeks we train at least three times a week. I’m not athletic, I go to the gym but I stop when I’m tired and I still eat and drink and party like I normally would. You can tell this when I start training. Most sessions I turned up in a state of anxiety over the amount or warm up laps we’ll have to do or whether we’re going to spar or not. Every session I set the pace for the back of the group on the 9 laps, which I’m completely fine with. I quite enjoy watching everyone run past me, I mirror the running technique of each person until I get too tired and have to slump back to my default waddle. Issy runs only with her legs, her top half remains impossibly still. I spent most of those 10 weeks following Issy’s example. She was my guiding light. When I wanted to give up, I saw that she hadn’t, so I couldn’t.
The training is hard. I can’t drink because if I’m hungover I won’t train, or being hit in the face will just be all the more overwhelming. I’m tired all the time, so I have no energy to do anything other than boxing or the occasional ‘day activity’ as if I’m 65 and new to retirement. All I can think about is boxing. All I talk about is boxing. I cry ALL the time and I don’t know why. This experience has given me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. My personal favourite low was the first time I got hit properly.
You only have to get punched once to realise that it’s not that bad. In a boxing ring I mean, I’ve been assaulted on the street and I can confirm that was bad and it did hurt. But in the boxing ring you realise that nothing can really hurt you. It stings and when it happens the first time, your eyes go black and when you come back round you want to cry (I say want to cry as if I was really brave and managed not to, suffice to say I was not brave and I did cry.) Once this has happened however, nothing else can hurt you. Nothing feels as bad as that first punch, and even if it does you won’t realise until a few hours later. Adrenaline works as a coat of armour.
In that ring you’re invincible and nothing can stop you from holding your guard up and building the courage and energy to fight back. That feeling is when I realised the power of boxing. the benefit of putting yourself in a ‘fight or flight’ situation and recognising your strength. No wonder I was crying all the time. I was learning something new about myself every time I got hit in the face.
Boxing has become so much more to me than a sport. When I was struggling with actually hitting someone, meekly avoiding it by tapping the headguard of their shoulder, people told me to think of the fuck boys. ‘Just think of all the guys that fucked you over’. Yeah, I thought. That’s a fucking brilliant idea, I’d like to punch 80% of the guys that I’ve ever come into contact with. Perfect.
But , the realisation comes to me overwhelmingly. This is the one space where it doesn’t have to be about men. My grit, fire and instinctual ability to protect and defend comes from a place that’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s two women proving that they’re powerful, strong and fearless. It breaks down any conception of your perceived capability, or definition of beauty, or what girls should do, what is sexy, what is aggressive, unladylike. In that moment, even though all I could think about was that my heart might stop or I might throw up, I knew all of that. I felt all of the benefits of being in that ring, a woman in the ring, face to face with another woman who offered up her own story, her own force and her heart and soul.
For once I don’t think I’m being dramatic. For the duration of my training period I couldn’t decipher what I was finding so difficult emotionally. Now I know that it was a battle. My body was battling with new muscles and expectations. My mind was battling with hitting someone, being hit and what it meant to fight. And my soul was battling with everything that had ever caused it harm. Somehow, all of that surfaces in the light of a boxing ring.
I am fucked now. Can the ref not see that I’m about to die?! My punches are more like pushes in an attempt to keep her the fuck away from me. I’m too tired to move out of her range so I let her hit me and I just try to hit back harder. I hear the crowd, my beloved friends and family who are screaming as if something they love is on fire. So I fight. I dig deep into whatever energy resource I have left and I put all my cards on the table. I don’t box well. I’m too tired to box well now, but I look her in the eyes and I trust that I know what I’m doing – I try to enjoy the last two minutes of my first White Collar boxing match. The bell is like cold water on a hot day or a long orgasm or the moment you plunge into a warm bath. I feel high as a kite. I feel famous. I feel strong. I feel so proud of myself. I feel like I want to cry. I hug her. I hug her because she has been a part of my journey. I hug her because it’s over. I hug her because I gave her a nose bleed. I hug her because together we’ve completed a challenge that I know has made me a better person.
So boxing has changed my life because I’ve realised that people aren’t lying when they say ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’. It’s empowered me to a point that I feel invincible. It’s stripped away my perceptions of what sexy is – sweat is sexy – effort is sexy – boxing shorts are not sexy but we’ll allow it because they’re part and parcel of something VERY sexy. I always knew this, but this experience has reiterated to me how incredibly supportive my network of friends and family is. I’ve been introduced to people that inspire me beyond belief. I now appreciate dedication in a way that I never have before. I can run up the stairs without being out of breath. I weigh more than I ever have and feel more beautiful than ever. As Issy would say, we’re now Hot Property. Boxing will from now on be my drug. My source of empowerment, energy and outpour.
I’ve also realised that it takes a village to achieve greatness…
(Greatness. Really flattering myself there, but you know what I mean.)
Marnie, the head of the White Collar training camp and a female boss. Thank you for inspiring me and always replying with ‘you can do it’ when I said anything negative. Our coaches, Mark, Ana and Mike thanks for making me sweat more than I knew was humanly possible and for believing in every single one of us.
Girls, thank you for picking me up off the floor when I was crying. Thank you for listening to me bang on about technique and throw punches in your direction whenever I had the chance. Thank you for making me do it in the first place.
Everyone who watched me. I love every single one of you endlessly. You are my energy, my back bone and my intricate support network. I will forever be grateful for all of you and I’ll never stop showing you.
Issy. Babe. If I got one thing from this experience it is my friendship with you. You’re an empress and my obsession with you grows daily.
So if this hasn’t inspired you, I don’t know what will?