Lisa Whiteside, 2014 Boxing World Championships silver medallist, has achieved so much in a relatively short space of time, becoming a world silver medallist only eight years after taking up boxing.
We’ve chatted to Lisa to find out more about why she chose boxing, the challenges she has faced being involved in a predominantly male dominated sport, and the rise of women’s boxing following the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Have you been involved in sport from a young age?
From primary school onwards, I was brought up in a sporty family with three brothers and a sister all involved in sport. At primary school I loved sprinting, cross country and rounders. Throughout my school years I’ve been involved in most sports team. I’ve always had a love of sport.
What age did you get into boxing?
I started at 21, but prior to that me and my sister joined the local gym at 16 for fitness. I saw they did a kick boxing class so coaxed my sister in to coming with me. From that I got into Thai boxing but never competed as I joined the police force at the same time and it was hard to commit with my work shifts.
People kept saying ‘you’re so strong, you’re missing out’ so I googled ‘women’s boxing clubs in my area’ and found a club with a female national champion there, I walked into that Gym at age 21 and I have never looked back.
Was it inspiring having someone in the gym that was boxing at a high level already?
Yes. Lindsey Littlewood had just won a national title and boxed at that gym so they already knew about women’s boxing. I was treated no different to the men in the gym and a couple of months down the line I had my first fight.
Do you feel lucky that you walked into that gym, which was so set up for women’s boxing?
Yes definitely. I remember ringing up one gym, eight years ago now, and the gentleman on the phone said ‘yes you can come down but we haven’t got facilities for women, but you can come down’, and I thought well you’ve already made me feel unwelcome. There was a bit of animosity there. But that is actually the only negative thing I have come across in women’s boxing. If anything, the experience pushed me more to join another club because if I ever came across them now I could say ‘do you remember me? I rang you to join your club’.
What challenges have you faced in your sporting career, particularly as a woman?
I would say probably the biggest challenge for me has been the fact that there are only three Olympic weight categories for women compared to the 10 for men. I used to box at 57kg which is a non-Olympic weight. I used to box and work full time as a police officer because I couldn’t get on the GB programme because my weight category wasn’t Olympic funded.
I went to my major internationals, initially the Europeans and the world championships, and had to take unpaid leave from work as an unfunded athlete, training as well as working a 24 hour shift rota. That was my biggest challenge throughout my career.
I got silver at the Europeans and then bronze at the worlds in 2012, which was the qualifier for the Olympics. Had my weight been in I would have qualified for the 2012 London Olympics. So on the flight home all the girls had qualified and I was going back to work. That was quite hard to deal with.
After the Olympics, because women’s boxing got such good publicity and a great following, there was talk of increasing to five weight categories which was exciting news but this didn’t happen and they have stuck with the three categories. This meant that I have had to drop from 57kg to now box at 51kg, I have had to sacrifice and push myself to make one of the Olympic weights, but now I am obviously living my dream as a full time GB athlete.
The initial drop to that weight must have been tricky and taken some hard work?
I got together with the GB nutritionist who measured my body fats and we made sure that it was a healthy move. I wasn’t doing it to any extremes. I was taking my time doing it gradually and I make my weight quite easily now. It was just making sure it was the right and healthy thing to do.
What would you say to any young women who are interested in pursuing boxing?
I would say definitely go for it, I’ve done so many different sports and you can’t beat the feeling of the all-round fitness of boxing. You don’t have to go into competition; even just for fitness it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s all round body fitness, it pushes you, it’s disciplined and you get to meet new people whilst learning a new skill.
Don’t ever think you can’t do boxing because it will just be men. I did it eight years ago and was welcomed. I have seen boxing grow and there is a phenomenal amount of women participating in boxing internationally, it’s fantastic.
Have you noticed a lot more girls coming to the clubs since the 2012 Olympics?
Definitely. I’m now at a different club but we have two young girls at our club, one of them has boxed for England three or four times and the other one has boxed for the North West. They did similar to me, they knew I was at this club so they came here which I think is lovely, to know that I have inspired those young girls to come and get involved.
If you look now at most clubs you will always have female boxers as part and parcel of the club. It’s fantastic. There is no separation, sessions are mixed men and women. If women do want to get involved but are a bit intimidated there are women only sessions too. It’s a great sport, I would recommend it to anybody.
We also have football teams come for pre season training and they are shattered, they don’t realise the intensity of the training. People often say to me ‘how many rounds do you do?' I say four 2-minute rounds with a minute break in between, and I’m sure they look at me and think ‘is that it?’ I’ve done running and cross country and I think I would rather run a marathon, the exhaustion you have to deal with and the fitness you have to have to get in that ring is unbelievable.
What do you do to unwind after a full days training?
In Sheffield we have flats and I share with Sandy Rae who’s also on the GB team. At the training venue there is a sauna and steamroom so we often relax in there and usually have a cinema night too. It’s like our second home so we all look after each other.
So are you now looking ahead to Rio 2016?
Yes, I was at the world championships in November and I won silver at the Olympic weight of 51kg so that was a massive achievement, I only missed out on Gold by a split decision. I couldn’t have dreamed of achieving what I have done. My rival now is Nicola Adams who boxes at my weight so this year is about proving myself and showing I can perform up there with her. It’s a challenging year ahead.