Want a new challenge for 2017? Want to go somewhere you’ve never gone?
Try women’s boxing. I did…
The following story first appeared in Perth Woman magazine many years ago. I found it in a recent clean-up, and it reminded me how important it is to be brave, and to try new things, to feel strong and alive.
So here’s to a teriffic, brave 2017! Get out there!
LADIES OF THE RING
“Boxing…. Women’s boxing.” Editor-in-chief Fiona waves breezily at a newspaper clipping of three women, each sporting a pair of gloves large enough to slam a small bus into submission.
“Oh, boxing.” I nod and think about broken noses. Concussion. The crunch of a glove connecting. At least I’d meet some interesting people.
“Oh, and we’d like you to train with them, get into the ring, y’know…”
Super. Terrific. Thanks.
Boxing has never been my thing.
It’s two men smashing each other into bits until one of them falls over. Fiona says there’s something about two taut bodies in the primal throes of physical combat… Hmmm.
Tonight I’m sitting at trainer Pat Devellerez’s boxing gym in Malaga, watching two women thump punches into each other’s heads.
They circle like tigers, sizing each other up before jabbing out with a flurry of blows.
They keep their heads low and eyes focused, muscled arms shooting forward and landing with great thuds.
Rosie Simich has been boxing for five years. By day she’s an electrical engineering draftsperson. By night she’s an Australian boxing champion, with her sights set on the Women’s Amateur Boxing World Championships this September in Moscow. This will be her third world champs, and this time she says she’s bringing home the medal.
“I’m up before five to run for an hour, and as soon as I finish work I jump in the car, boot it to the gym, and train for a couple of hours. Then I go home, go to sleep, and wake up the next day to do it all again.
“I have down days when I think, what are you doing? Why can’t you be normal? But normal’s boring. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
Rosie says boxing requires “all-or-nothing” kind of effort.
“You have to move as fast as you can, hit as hard as you can, be as smart as you can. When it hurts, can you just grind your teeth and keep going? Because while you’re resting, someone else is training to kick your ass.
“People say that boxing builds character. It doesn’t. It reveals character.”
But Rosie hasn’t always been a fervent boxer. “I just went down to the gym one day, and I’ve come back every night since. I love it. You get to test yourself against another person, see who’s got what it takes. You can’t get that feeling anywhere but in the ring.”
“Mum gets all worried that I’ll get hurt, but she’s still pretty supportive. Dad absolutely hates it, hates the whole idea of it. Boxing is the first thing we ever disagreed on. But after five years I think he’s realized I’m not going to stop.”
Claire Ghabrial caused a similar stir for her parents when she gave up karate to take up the ring, but says they’re now used to the idea.
“Dad always hated it, but it’s the first thing he says to people: ‘My daughter’s a boxer’. And Mum’s my number one fan, she always writes motivational messages before my fights.”
Claire is national champion in her division, and Oceania champion for two years running.
“The most common reaction is ‘You don’t look like a boxer’, and I’m like ‘Well what am I meant to look like?’”
The highlight of her career so far was winning her first Oceania championship. “It was surreal, standing on that block, listening to the Australian anthem.”
Pat Devellerez feels women deserve the right to box at the Olympics. “Women play rugby, soccer, horse riding…what’s wrong with boxing?
“I believe in equal opportunity, and equality. Why shouldn’t women get the chance to do what they want?”
Pat is a champion boxer himself, and has trained five Australian champions. His grandfather, father, uncle and sons were all champion boxers (“for us it is a kind of play”), and his niece, Jasmine Devellerez, is also fighting at a national level.
I expected Pat to be macho and threatening. Instead he is softly spoken and calm, like he’s been meditating all day instead of fending off punches.
He smiles when I ask why he’s not strutting round like Mad Max on steroids.
“We’re placid as anything, we’re not there to hurt you. Anyone can be a fighter in the street, but to fight in the ring…that’s totally different. It’s a disciplined sport.”
Daughter-in-law Trish Devellerez was Pat’s first female champion.She started boxing to spend more time with husband Rocky, Pat’s eldest son.
“He was always at the gym, so I just started hanging out. Pat and Rocky convinced me I was good, and one day they came and said ‘We’ve found you a fight.’ All through school I had a thing about getting up in front of people, and suddenly, there I was, in the ring in front of hundreds of people. But I just got in and did what I had to do.”
Get up! What’s wrong with you? Get going!
In the ring with Rosie tonight is Naomi Fischer-Rasmussen. Pat tells me they’re only sparring, but it looks like the real thing to me.
Naomi is the only girl in a family of six brothers. Her coach (and father) Barry Fischer-Rasmussen yells encouragement from the sideline.
“When she falls I just want to run and pick her up,” he says. “Instead I say ‘Get up! What’s wrong with you? Get going!’’’
“These women are setting a standard,” says Barry. “They’re doing something a lot of blokes couldn’t do.
“The four steps of courage are the ones up into the ring; that’s where you face your own fears.”
And I’m supposed to doing just that, right? Right. After watching Rosie and Naomi annihilate each other, it’s more like the last thing on my mind. But perhaps more frightening than the thought of a training session with Pat Devellerez is the thought of returning to Perth Woman HQ sweat-less and smelling sweetly. So how hard could it really be?
One, two, hook. Harder! Harder!
And so the next morning I’m at the gym at 8 am.
I’m so nervous I’m sweating already, and we haven’t even started.
First Pat and I jog a kilometre, to check out my form. On the way back we do some short sprints, and he streaks ahead (this man is 59 years of age!). We make it back to the gym, and I’ve hardly broken a sweat. It’s all going to be OK.
“Right,” says Pat. “Jog with Rosie.”
And so I’m off again. Rosie sets a good pace, but Jasmine stills sprint up to join us (“Pat told me to catch you up”). We pound our way through four kilometres of pavement (“He usually chases me on a bicycle yelling ‘come on, come on’” grins Rosie) and by the time we arrive back, I’m starting to worry.
The skipping ropes come out. We’re supposed to do ten minutes, but this isn’t the skipping we did at primary school; this is hard-core sonic-speed non-stop power skipping (“It’s about timing, balance, endurance and speed,” says Pat).
It takes me nine minutes and three skipping ropes to almost get the hang of it, and even then I have to stop to catch my breath.
The other girls bound around like ballroom dancers, all light and delicate and perfectly in time.
“Pad work,” Pat announces, and hands me a pair of giant gloves. “Come on, into the ring.”
I crawl in and he shows me a jab, a straight punch, a hook. I’ve never punched anything in my life. I feel like a rabbit trying to do ballet. “Harder,” he insists. “Harder.”
I concentrate on slamming my gloved fists into his pads, but I’m terrified of hurting him, terrified of missing. He doesn’t seem worried at all. “Harder. Harder” he instructs. “One, two, hook. One, two, hook. Good.”
Sometimes I forget I’m punching a human being.
Once (and only once) I land a punch that seems to have the strength of my body behind it. It feels good.
It’s only one two-minute round, but I feel like I’ve been fighting a swarm of angry washing machines. I have sweat literally dripping off me, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to move my arms in the morning. My hands are aching inside the giant gloves.
When Claire steps into the ring to show me how it’s done, she smashes her punches into Pat’s pads, her entire body moving behind each punch, muscles rippling. This is the same girl who was joking with me about dress-shopping, just minutes earlier. Now she’s a fighter, throwing the punches she’s worked hard to learn.
“Fighting is the best feeling in the world,” says Rosie. “You step in to the ring, adrenalin pumping.
“You see your opponent. You see them looking at you, and you’re looking back at them. You come in, touch gloves, walk back to your corner, and then it’s ding-ding-ding and go-go-go.”
But I’m all out of go-go-go.
After spending time with these ladies I can feel nothing but admiration for their dedication and skill, and muscle pain throughout most of my body.
I want ringside tickets to their next fight.