WHY WE FIGHT

AS THE NUM­BER OF WOMEN BOX­ERS IN THE UK SKY­ROCK­ETS, MICKEY CAR­ROLL FINDS OUT WHY LGBT WOMEN KEEP COM­ING BACK FOR MORE

Diva (UK) - - Contents -

How box­ing is chang­ing women’s lives

Wrap­ping your knuck­les takes time. Each wind of the ban­dage is sav­ing you from a week of floppy hands and shoot­ing pains though, so it’s worth it. Plus, with those wraps on, you feel like an ut­ter badass.

When I first started box­ing, be­ing a badass was pretty high on my list of pri­or­i­ties. I was a bi­sex­ual, fairly femme woman and I was bored of car­ing that I didn’t seem “gay enough”. I wanted to be one of those women who didn’t give a shit. So, I started box­ing at an LGBT club called Knock­out London. I’ve been fight­ing for over a year now and I’m, ahem, hooked – pun en­tirely in­tended.

Box­ing as a queer woman feels like an act of de­fi­ance. It spits in the face of gen­der stereo­types. It means I can de­fend my­self. Since the Brexit vote, London has seen a 12% rise in re­ported LGBT hate crime and sadly, dly, we may need to be able to de­fend nd our­selves more than ever. But there’s re’s a grow­ing com­mu­nity of women fighters who can do that. t.

Ac­cord­ing to Sport Eng­land,ng­land, there were 1,849 womenn fight­ing in UK ama­teur clubs in 2011. 011. There are now over 48,000. That hat means there are 2,500% more of us fight­ing reg­u­larly. The in­crease is in no small part due to o Nicola Adams.

Adams is a twotime Olympic cham­pion, a trail­blazer of women’s box­ing and an all-round dream­boat. She was the first woman to win an Olympic box­ingg ti­tle in 2012, the year the num­ber of box­ers be­gan to sky-rock sky-rocket. She’s also openly bi­sexua bi­sex­ual. I spoke to Nicola while sh she was pro­mot­ing her auto au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Be­lieve, and it to took ev­ery fi­bre of my be­ing to keep me from fan-gir fan-girling over the phone. “W“Women should be able t to de­fend them­selves in any sit­u­a­tion,” she says. I’m find­ing out why she cares about women’s box­ing. But it is not only the phys­i­cal as­pect that is im­por­tant. “Box­ing has made me a lot more con­fi­dent. I have an inne in­ner be­lief in my­self that I can achieve any­thing

now. It is nice to know that I’m cre­at­ing the path for other women to do that.”

Be­ing LGBT hasn’t played a huge part in Nicola’s box­ing life. Peo­ple don’t seem to care. She was 15 when she came out to her mum and then her coaches af­ter that. For them, it was a non-is­sue. “They were much more both­ered about train­ing and mak­ing sure I was per­form­ing well.” Be­ing a woman fighter has caused some prob­lems though. She even had to per­suade her new man­ager, Frank War­ren, that women could fight, and he’s in charge of her ca­reer. “He was very against women’s box­ing but he says I changed his mind. I feel like if I can change Frank’s mind, I can change ev­ery­body’s mind.”

I be­lieve her. Hav­ing strength in your con­vic­tions is the only way to get through box­ing. When you’ve got aching arms, sweat pour­ing out of ev­ery crevice and a coach shout­ing at you to “Get in the ring!”, you have to be­lieve you can. There are too many peo­ple who think women can’t fight for you to also be one of them.

Con­found­ing gen­der-stereo­types was im­por­tant to ev­ery­one I spoke to. Am­ber has been fight­ing since she was 12, when her mum ca­joled her into try­ing a kick-box­ing class. Of all the peo­ple I met, Am­ber was the most con­fi­dent, and with good rea­son. She is a com­plete charmer and an in­cred­i­ble fighter. One of the women I spoke to was wor­ried about be­ing matched with Am­ber in a fight. She listed all the ways Am­ber knew to beat some­one and then turned to me and said, “I do not want to fight her”. De­spite that, though, she’s of­ten not taken se­ri­ously when she tells peo­ple that she’s a boxer. “Peo­ple don’t be­lieve me when I tell them I fight.” She is small and has a beam­ing, friendly smile. You don’t au­to­mat­i­cally pic­ture her in a box­ing ring. “I like fight­ing men be­cause they think they can get com­fort­able and beat me. I like watch­ing them re­alise that they can’t. I will go into the ring with some­one 10 times my weight, just for that mo­ment.”

Am­ber’s con­fi­dence is key to her suc­cess; if you were to step into the ring with her, you’d know she ex­pects to beat you. That can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween win­ning and los­ing a fight. “When new women come to class, they tend to be ner­vous and not want to hit very hard. I like to watch them spar and then tell them what they were do­ing wrong. I’ll help them fix it and get their con­fi­dence up. Then the next time, they’re so much bet­ter.”

It isn’t sur­pris­ing peo­ple feel ner­vous when they start. We’re told as we grow up that nice girls don’t fight. Thump­ing the guy mak­ing leery com­ments about you may seem tempt­ing, but very few of us ac­tu­ally do it. So the first time you step into a ring is hor­ri­fy­ing. Peo­ple ac­tu­ally ex­pect you to hit an­other hu­man. It can take a few months be­fore that stops be­ing weird. My first time spar­ring, I per­formed what can only be de­scribed as “pan­icked doggy pad­dle”. You know the stereo­types of a girl fight – all flappy hands and squeal­ing? I’m sad to say that was me. A year later and I’ve fi­nally got the con­fi­dence, if not the skills. No more thump­ing heart and clammy neck for me; now I can fo­cus on what my hands are do­ing and where my feet are. I’ve stopped apol­o­gis­ing when my punches land and the thought of peo­ple watch­ing me bounce around a ring no longer fills me with dread.

That con­fi­dence trans­lates out of the box­ing ring and makes you more re­silient. Al­though vi­o­lence is a risk, as LGBT peo­ple we’re much more likely to face ver­bal abuse. Emily Nor­grove started fight­ing at 16, soon af­ter com­ing out. “Com­ing to terms with who I was as a per­son al­lowed me to take on new chal­lenges like box­ing. I was dis­cov­er­ing who I was. Once I started box­ing, it was great – any com­ments I got just rolled off me. I was ex­er­cis­ing and do­ing a sport that I en­joy; I felt so happy with my­self. I felt pow­er­ful.”

By the time I’m done talk­ing to Emily, I’ve re­alised why box­ing is so ad­dic­tive. It gives you power that you might not have had else­where. You are fore­front and cen­tre, tak­ing own­er­ship over your body. “I was shy when I started, I never wanted to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion,” Emily says. “When I’d done group sports, I never wanted to be the striker, the one ev­ery­one watches. But when you’re box­ing, you have all the at­ten­tion on you and I liked it. It brings out your cocky side.”

When you come out of a box­ing ses­sion, you feel in­vin­ci­ble. It doesn’t mat­ter if you’ve landed a punch or just tried bloody hard, the fact that you made it through the ses­sion is enough. The fi­nal per­son I spoke to said that is the rea­son she started box­ing. “Paddy” Pad­di­son is into in­tense sports. She’s an ex-rugby player and started fight­ing when she was 18, back in Spald­ing. “It’s re­ally chal­leng­ing, it’s a scary thing to do. That’s why I liked it. I thought, if I can go to a box­ing ses­sion, then I can do any­thing.”

Once she left univer­sity and started fight­ing in London, Paddy found a com­mu­nity. “Be­cause we’re all do­ing it to­gether, three times a week, we’ve all become friends. While we’re wait­ing to spar, we’ll be sat chat­ting. There’s not re­ally any com­pet­i­tive­ness – which could be a prob­lem when we ac­tu­ally come to fight.”

Paddy, and most of the peo­ple I spoke to, were com­pet­ing in the Pride Box­ing fight or­gan­ised by Pride In London. 32 of them spent 10 weeks in­ten­sively train­ing for a fight that kicked off the Pride week­end ear­lier this month. Ev­ery­one I spoke to had made friends. Ev­ery­one I spoke to was go­ing to have to fight one of them.

The more I talked to these peo­ple, the more I re­alised that it was their men­tal achieve­ments that made them im­pres­sive. The fact that Nicola could change some­one’s mind about women’s box­ing to the point that they rep­re­sented her ca­reer. The fact that Am­ber steps into rings with men, know­ing they think she can’t win. The fact that Emily dealt with com­ing out by tak­ing on an­other chal­lenge. The fact that Paddy started box­ing to prove to her­self she could do any­thing. These peo­ple aren’t im­pres­sive just be­cause they can throw a good left­hook. They’re im­pres­sive be­cause they’re fight­ing for them­selves and ev­ery­one around them to be bet­ter.

Each week I wrap my knuck­les, step into the box­ing gym and get one hook closer to be­ing like these ut­ter badasses.

“I like fight­ing men be­cause they think they can beat me. I like watch­ing them re­alise that they can’t”

Left to right: Am­ber Charles, Emily and Paddy. Be­low: Nicola Adams

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