The Bri­tish Olympic cham­pion boxer on tack­ling ho­mo­pho­bia and sex­ism with one de­fi­nant punch.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS: - Im­age courtesy of E45 Words Si­mon Gage

The Bri­tish Olympic cham­pion on liv­ing at the in­ter­sec­tion of her sex­u­al­ity and race, and why life has never been the same since she brought home the gold.

The first time Ni­cola Adams re­alised her life was never go­ing to be the same again was when she went home from the Lon­don Olympics. She’d just won the first gold medal in women’s boxing in the his­tory of hu­man achieve­ment and thought she could pop to ASDA to do a lo­cal shop.

“I was com­pletely mobbed,” she laughs in her trade­mark hoodie and sweats on her way to her sec­ond daily train­ing ses­sion out of three in a sea­son that lasts 23 weeks: well, that’s the com­mit­ment you make if you not only want to win the Olympic Golds (she fol­lowed up 2012 with a sec­ond in Rio in 2016) but want to earn the cash dol­lars, which she can now that she’s turned pro­fes­sional. She re­cently won a unan­i­mous points vic­tory (if that means any­thing to you) and is ex­pected to fight for a world ti­tle in her next bout in De­cem­ber.

“I had to just leave my shop­ping and leg it,” she says, not that she minded the at­ten­tion. “No! It was a nice thing, nice to see that peo­ple ac­tu­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the hard work and the time that I put in at the gym to win my gold medal for the coun­try, es­pe­cially as I was the first woman ever to get a boxing gold.”

The whole boxing thing was a bit of an ac­ci­dent any­way, she reck­ons. “My mum used to do aerobics and she couldn’t get a babysit­ter so she took us to an af­ter-school boxing class that they had at the same place,” Ni­cola says of her up­bring­ing in Leeds. Her mum, a sin­gle par­ent with two chil­dren, is now her role model, the per­son who told her that if she wanted some­thing she had to work hard for it.

“I used to watch boxing on the TV but I never thought I was go­ing to be a boxer but I ab­so­lutely loved it right away,” she ex­plains, even though the boys in the class were re­luc­tant to hit a girl un­til they learned she could more than hit back. “The coach said to me, ‘I have one rule in this gym and that is that you lis­ten to me be­cause you’re all box­ers’, and that’s what I wanted to hear, that you’re not go­ing to be treated any dif­fer­ently.” This was when she was 12 – she’s now 35 – with her first match com­ing a year later. “I was the only girl in the class, but it’s a lot dif­fer­ent now.”

Now, largely be­cause of Ni­cola’s suc­cess in bring­ing the sport to na­tional promi­nence, there are fa­cil­i­ties for girls to learn boxing, they can go for na­tional cham­pi­onships, box for their coun­try, and won’t be told to go off and try tennis in­stead. But back then, it was the fact that she was the only girl, not that she was a les­bian, some­thing that she seems never to have had an is­sue with, that was the prob­lem for some peo­ple.

“The main thing in my sport was al­ways the sex­ism,” she says, “never the ho­mo­pho­bia. I’ve never en­coun­tered that.” Even her now-beloved coach was re­sis­tant to hav­ing a young woman to train. “He just didn’t want to train fe­male box­ers,” she says, “but I kept on go­ing to the gym

and do­ing all the work and slowly I started to grow on him and now he’s one of the best train­ers I’ve ever had.”

A firm be­liever that com­ing out is for the crows, she did ac­tu­ally bother to come out to her mum but that was about it. “I was a teenager and I told my mum and she was fine. I think I’d worked my­self up, like, ‘How am I go­ing to say these things?’ When it all blew up for me, I didn’t do a big thing in the me­dia to say I was com­ing out, it was just there, it was open knowl­edge and I think that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t have to come out. It would be nice to live in a world where you didn’t have to make that state­ment. Straight peo­ple don’t have to. They don’t have to tell peo­ple, ‘By the way, I’m het­ero­sex­ual’ and why should it be like that?”

Even the tra­di­tion­ally tricky sub­ject of spon­sor­ship where the big com­pa­nies used to with­draw fund­ing if the sports per­son they were fi­nanc­ing turned out to be gay is now a big ‘so what’. Be­fore the Olympics some of the big sports brands made pub­lic state­ments that they would never with­draw spon­sor­ship if an ath­lete came out. “I don’t think any­one cares. I re­ally don’t,” says Ni­cola, “I don’t be­lieve any spon­sor would take fund­ing away.”

Quite the con­trary in the case of Ni­cola, who is now an OBE and fronting a ma­jor cam­paign for skin­care brand E45, quite a good match bear­ing in mind she’s in her mid-30s and could still pass for 16 de­spite tak­ing a good pound­ing to the face on a reg­u­lar ba­sis: “I work hard de­fend­ing my­self to make sure I don’t get hit in the face,” she laughs, ad­mit­ting she likes that peo­ple take her for a teenager. “There’s not a boxer out there who likes get­ting hit.”

Ac­cord­ing to re­search that E45 car­ried out around three quar­ters of women fo­cus on the neg­a­tives when they look in the mir­ror and three in five don’t like what they see. “I’ve al­ways been happy with my ap­pear­ance,’ says Ni­cola. “And one rea­son I wanted to get in­volved was to get women to ac­tu­ally pick out pos­i­tive things about them­selves that they’re ac­tu­ally happy with.”

Hav­ing taken in­stant fame and the first Olympic gold in women’s boxing in her stride, Ni­cola also took her du­ties as a role model, which were thrust on her just as in­stan­ta­neously with her be­ing crowned most in­flu­en­tial LGBTQ per­son in the coun­try in The In­de­pen­dent’s an­nual list straight af­ter her Olympic tri­umph. It was some­thing she em­braced. “That was amaz­ing,” she says, still a speaker at events and for char­i­ties con­nected with the com­mu­nity. “I didn’t mind, and still don’t, hav­ing that role model thing put on me. I liked the idea that I might in­spire peo­ple just by do­ing what I was do­ing and win­ning medals.”

And it gives her quite a kick when girls come up to her not only to say that she in­spired them to come out but that she was the in­spi­ra­tion for them to move from bal­let to boxing in a sort of re­verse Billy Elliot sit­u­a­tion.

It’s funny to think back to those boys at her first boxing club who were re­luc­tant to go for her think­ing that it wasn’t right to hit a girl. “They soon got past that,” she laughs now that they’re prob­a­bly brašing to any­one who will lis­ten that they once had seven shades of the brown stuff knocked out of them by the fighter who will prob­a­bly be holder of a world ti­tle very soon and never mind that it was a girl.

“If you’re go­ing to take a beat­ing from a boxer,” says Ni­cola with that short lit­tle York­shire chuckle, “at least it has to be a good one.”

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