"I decided I needed to take control."
I am probably the last person you’d expect to take part in a contact sport. I’m more the baking/knitting type, plus I’m a crier! But last year I competed (and won) a white-collar boxing match and fell in love with boxing.
In 2014, I lost my Mum. I shut myself off mentally — throwing myself into work, drinking lots, sleeping very little and not looking after myself. I was so busy trying to be strong for everyone else, I didn’t really allow myself to grieve and I developed severe anxiety.
After a couple of years being in a rut, I decided I needed to take control. There is a boxing gym at the end of my road so I decided to give it a go, more out of convenience than a burning desire to box!
During the short walk, I had a full-on panic attack. As I entered this seemingly male-dominated environment I was greeted by Neil, the owner, a 6ft5 giant and former heavyweight professional boxer. I was terrified! Despite a bit of a kerfuffle signing in and anxiety on high alert, Neil made me laugh the whole way through the session and I quickly realised and appreciated the skill and coordination you need to box.
For the next month, I still had a mini panic every time I went in but I was making friends in the group classes and slowly getting more comfortable. The trainers provide the same level of coaching whether you’re a pro-boxer, amateur or a complete novice. Even if you have no intention of getting into the ring you’re trained like you are, with a mix of technical drills, bag work, skipping, partner work and circuits.
I was encouraged to progress into sparring (actually punching each other) and in my third session I burst into tears in the middle of the ring. You’re wearing a head guard and hugely padded gloves so it doesn’t hurt getting hit, it’s more shock, but it can be incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t my proudest moment (nor the last time I’ve cried at the gym!) but the trainers always seem to know when I need a cuddle or just need pushing a little harder.
After eighteen months of borderline bullying by Neil, I signed up into my first white-collar boxing match. White-collar boxing is a form of boxing where professional men and women train to box at special events in front of an audience. Most have no prior boxing experience and compete as a personal challenge and life experience, and to raise money for charity. I felt safe, appropriately matched and 90% of the time had great fun during training. I wanted to win, but more importantly I wanted to prove I could do it.
Getting into the ring and boxing in front of 800+ people, in spite of my anxiety, and raising over £1,000 for Cancer Research in memory of my Mum, was a massive personal achievement for me. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have done it without the support of everyone at the gym, especially Neil, and hands down, it’s one of the best experiences I have ever had.
Through boxing I’ve gained confidence and achieved things that I never thought I could. It’s a full body workout that’s fun, so you don’t even feel like you’re exercising, and training with an end goal was a bit of a revelation. I would recommend boxing to anyone, even if you have no intention of stepping into the ring — although remember, I said that once too!
If you’ve been inspired by Hannah’s story, find out how to get started with boxing.