Taking the hit: women in boxing

Pembroke Street interview Gaia Laidler, Varsity boxing champion.

Photos by Sophie Nadell

Training regime

“We train six times a week formally with the club, for two early morning runs (either hill sprints or sprints on Jesus Green) and two evening sessions during the week where we just do training. We also have one circuit session and one weekend huge session which is circuits, training and sparring. And on our own we normally run three or four times a week to keep fit.

“Boxing is a really weird one because you’re training really hard but still have to keep in a weight category. I’m really lucky - for Varsity I’ve been matched at 69 which is my normal weight, so I don't have to lose anything. But there are a lot of people who are cutting seriously whilst training, which is quite a tough compromise to make. It is one of the few sports where you have to be so regimented with diet because of this weight issue.”

Women in boxing

“In terms of female participation, I think boxing is now going through what other sports have been through already. It’s quite late to the game in terms of bringing up the standard of women boxing - in the university itself, there have been women on the team for about ten years but because there’s never been a Varsity until last year, obviously they’re sidelined because it’s all about Varsity at this level of sport.

“Of course, there are elements about boxing that inherently make it more male-dominated, such as the association with aggressive fighting. But I think the sport is about to open up on a larger scale. There are loads of really great role models out there and good women fighters on television, so hopefully it will become a more gender equal sport soon. It is definitely lagging at the moment.

“Seeing Nicola Adams in the Olympics - and real-world fights in general - are inspiration to join the sport. The number of women applying for the blues squad this year was huge. We’ve never had to turn away a girl from training with the blues team, because there’s only ever been ten or fifteen at tryouts. This time there were maybe 25 people who wanted to be in the squad.”

Boxing in popular culture

“There are some of the wrong role models out there, too. The Victoria’s Secret angels and other models say, “I box to keep fit.” Doing it for fitness is totally admirable, but what they’re doing is not really boxing. Now, the good thing about boxing is that it does translate really well into just a fitness workout, and you don’t actually have to do the fighting. But I think maybe we should call that ‘box fit’ or ‘boxercise’ because real boxing isn't like that. And those models wouldn’t stand a chance in the ring.

“Of course it is fun to punch something, but we learn in a completely different way because we’re not just punching stuff. We’re protecting our faces, for example. It’s even something as small as the models having their hands being by their waist before they throw a hit, whilst ours will always be up by our face. That’s maybe a reason why I do it, as well. To get rid of this false picture of women boxing.”

Individual vs team sport

“Boxing is obviously an individual sport, which means there’s more pressure and that you need to be even more confident to do it. Which may be a reason why some women don't like to continue it, because of the immense pressure you put on yourself. But I would say that it also feels like a team sport. The fight is won by training with all your teammates. So in that sense I’ve always found that it’s quite similar to football and other team sports, because we all push each other through the bad days, and we all train together.

“Having said that, there is something about the fact that when you go into the ring, you go alone. Which adds pressure obviously, and you do need to be very confident. That’s the best thing boxing gives you - the confidence. Although it feels like a team sport for 95% of the year, it’s just those last six minutes in the ring that you’re alone. Even then, you’re not alone, because you speak to the coaches every two minutes.”

Gaia Laidler is a fourth year Engineering student and is the social secretary of Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club

Interview by Charlotte Araya Moreland