Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Natalie Sharp, our determined young boxer

This time last year, almost to the day, I wrote about boxing. I wondered whether the case against boxing was too strong to ignore, not least because of the views of the likes of Peter McCabe, the chief executive of Headway. For Peter, the case against boxing was clear-cut: "Repeated blows to the head causes chronic brain injury," he told me. "Anyone taking up boxing is needlessly risking their health."

Since then, though, Britain has hosted the Olympics, and many of us were inspired by the efforts of our pugilists. Haringey-based Nicola Adams especially put a smile on many faces when she became the first woman to win an Olympic boxing Gold medal. Her joy and enthusiasm were truly infectious.

I've also encountered boxing closer to home, too. One of Spencers' employees, Natalie Sharp, is a dedicated boxer. By day, Natalie is a litigator in our Chesterfield office; many nights a week, she trains at the renowned Unity ABC in Wincobank, Sheffield. Chief coach Brendan Ingle has a reputation that goes beyond boxing, so much so that even people who aren't so sure about the noble art - like yours truly - have heard of him. His gym, which produced Prince Naseem Hamed and Herol 'Bomber' Graham, is a byword for hard work, discipline and success.

Natalie has some serious ambitions. "I want to compete in the next Olympics in Rio, and I want to be the first female professional boxer to come out of the Ingle Camp," she tells me. To fulfil her dreams, Natalie trains at least three nights a week at Unity with Jon Keeton, a former cruiserweight professional boxer. "I love the atmosphere of the gym," she says, "and Jon is a great trainer. I've got a huge amount of respect for him." And when she's not in the boxing gym, Natalie is out running and working on other aspects of her fitness. "All in all, I train six nights a week, minimum," she says.

Before she took up boxing Natalie was a karate expert. She took up Wado Ryu when she was eight, and became a black belt, third dan. She also learnt how to kickbox before, two years ago, switching exclusively to boxing. Now 23, Natalie's previous martial arts experience means that she has it tougher than most when it comes to competing in Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) bouts: "Because I've got a lot of martial arts experience I've had to fight opponents who've already got quite a few fights under their belts rather than novices," she reveals. Due allowance should be made for this in looking at Natalie's record of two wins and two defeats from four ABA fights. "One of my opponents had had 10 fights, another had had 16," she tells me.

But Natalie doesn't bemoan her fate. She chalks up each contest as invaluable experience towards the fulfilment of her goals. She's a determined young woman who exudes a quiet and steely confidence as much as she is clearly athletic and physically very capable.

So, has Natalie, Spencers' very own boxer, changed my mind? Am I now a convert to the world of southpaws, rope burns and TKOs?

I don't think so. On a personal level I know that boxing isn't for me, and I continue to have reservations about it in a wider sense. But so long as it remains lawful, I would always respect an individual's decision to lace up a pair of gloves and step up to the mark. I think, as a society, that we should respect the rights of others to make their own choices. And when I think about just how hard Natalie works at realising her ambitions, in this toughest of arenas, I also take my hat off to anyone who's made of the same stuff.

I'll write about Natalie's progress from time to time, so do check in to see how she's doing.

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