Monday, March 30, 2015

Retiring from sport isn't the end says boxer Caley Reece

PIC via Caley Reece Facebook
When is enough? How do you decided it’s time to end the love affair with competitive sport?  One of my favourite MuayThai fighters took that huge decision this weekend.

Australian Caley Reece was one of the most successful and inspiring MuayThai fighters around, male or female. She's retiring with six World titles and the respect of anyone who's watched her dominate the ring.

But even if she wasn't a world beater, retiring is huge. For anyone playing sport competitively (especially fighting) retirement means a 360° in your approach to life. Being a sports woman is all-consuming so you need to be sure of what's coming next.

In Reece’s retirement statement on Saturday she said:
“In 2012 I made a decision to retire and at the time, I based it on emotions that were happening in my life. After 8 months I realised I missed fighting so much that I returned to the ring for another 2 and a half years and had another 10 fights …”
 "I never thought I would really feel the day that I would fall out of love with fighting and it used to worry me I wouldn't be anything else in life. My sports pysc and Daz (her husband/trainer) said, "one day you will wake up and just know". That day happened recently. I woke up and I knew. My love for Muaythai and training is there but the fight in me has died."
An online search for professional athlete + retired + psychology gave 1,130,000 results. American website ‘The Sport in Mind’ has some great resources if you are facing this decision or know someone who is.
PIC via Caley Reece Facebook
Training structures your day in so many ways, even your diet maybe dictated by the demands of your sport. There’s a potential loss of friendship, and changing body shape. Probably a lot of new clothes to buy.

Stopping competition doesn’t mean walking away. 

*dons wise woman hat* More than ten years after my last Muaythat fight I’m still friends with many of the same people and new ones. Still passionate about the best sport in the world*

It also opens the way to new sports - once you’ve been fit and strong you never want to lose that!

Reece’s statement finished like this:  "You can take the girl away from the fight but you will never take the fight away within the girl. 

"This sport will always have my heart because its created the person that I feel proud to be. Muaythai.... will always be my life and I will continue to do my best to inspire with past stories, opinions and advice."
*may be a biased opinion

Friday, March 27, 2015

Para-cycling and the Road to Rio 2016

Dame Sarah Storey won Women's C-5 500m TT PIC Bryn Lennon Getty
This week the 2015 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships take place in Holland with cyclists competing for valuable places in Rio2016.

For me Paralympians are some of the most inspiring sports women you can find. These are women carrying injuries or illnesses which in the past would have relegated them to a life in bed or even locked away in an institution. Today you see them on the roads biking at high speed, running, throwing discus and generally representing themselves to an incredibly high standard.

It's probably fair to say the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics is closing - people are begining to see past the disabilities and just see athletes striving to succeed. It started with Bejing to a certain extent but it was really the London Games which dragged the Paralympics onto the stage.

Cycling was my first "in" to the world of Paralympics. I interviewed Irish para-cycylist Catherine Walsh in early 2012 and followed her journey to the London Olympics. Walsh raced with partner Fran Meehan on specially designed tandem bikes - gathering a collection of medals including Paralympic Silver that year.

Since then I've met swimmers, discus throwers, runners, footballers. And now with this latest championship it really feels like Rio2016 is getting closer. Over the next few months would-be Paralympians will be competing for those final precious places on the teams.

I'll be updating on this blog. Obviously with a focus on the Irish team but if you know of anyone I should feature who is competing in your area or your country, let me know. I'll also be taking a look at the classification system for each sport as that is central to the principles of the Games.

This video will take you back to the glory days of London2012 - a taster for what we have to look forward to over the next few months.

Have a good weekend!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sport and pregnancy; surfer Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton PIC via SplashNews

The moral police are out again and I'm not talking global politics here. Surfer Bethany Hamilton has brought wrath down on her head because - wait for it - she's continuing to surf during her pregnancy.

Imagine that. A fit and healthy woman wanting to stay that way while pregnant - so avoiding obesity, gestational diabetes, easing back pain and decreasing the chances of post-natal depression. (that's the Mayo Clinic talking)

You'd think knowing Hamilton survived a shark attack at 13 and went onto become a successful surfer that people would give her some credit for understanding her own body. Mpora's surf editor wrote a guest post for this blog a while back on Hamilton's amazing journey.

But apparently the idea pregnacy is an illness and the only way to survive is by sitting down for nine months is still going strong. Hamilton has been forced to come out defending herself; pointing out she's not exactly taking on big waves,and has modifed her routines. 

One doctor told an American newspaper: "Surfers have a chance of falling in the water, and hitting big waves can cause trauma to the abdomen". 

Some poignant comments on pregnancy websites about the risk of miscarriage clearly came from tragic personal experience, possibly spilling over into judgements I thought. But then I haven't been in their shoes.

PIC VIA Bethany Hamilton Instagram
It's not been all negative coverage to be fair. A poll carried out for one of the UK papers found 75% of respondents agreed with Hamilton's decision with just one in four saying no.  

That's still quite a lot of nay-sayers I think - although it may reflect the level of inactivity in the country. Similarly to Ireland rates of obesity are shooting up in the UK and people who don't exercise are unlikely to understand the benefits of exercising while pregnant. 

Personally I wish I could stay up on a board for longer than 30 seconds even while not pregnant. 

Congratulations to Hamilton and husband Adam Dirks from this blog at least!

What's your thoughts - where's the balance or are there any rules when it comes to exercise and pregnancy?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Is child boxing in Thailand about sport or work?

What do you think when you see two young girls in a boxing ring fighting? Real fighting I mean, not just a little cute tap followed by a giggle. Think about that, then watch this trailer for Buffalo Girls and read on ... 

Buffalo Girls - Theatrical Trailer from Buffalogirlsthemovie on Vimeo.

Described as "an unflinching look at Thailand's underground world of child boxers" Buffalo Girls is not a film you can forget easily, or even watch easily. I have mixed reactions, reactions conditioned by spending much of my adult life loving MuayThai, fighting it, talking it and watching it shape our lives. 

The opening shot of a yawning ricefield says it all for me. This is why the vast majority of Thais take part in their national sport - to make a living. It's akin to how soccer transforms the dour housing estates of Northern England or the favelas of Sao Paulo - but more painful, more brutal and yet somehow more beautiful too. 

When Stam says: "I want lots of money", you could take those words and put them into any fighter's mouth. It's a living pure and simple. That's why so many Thai kids fight, run before school, train after school (usually after running back to the gym from school, all while wearing their brown plimsolls). And inevitably leave school early to fight and train. 

That's not to say fighters aren't proud of what they do, and love their sport. They just love that it pays the rent and puts rice on the table as well. 

So when I see these girls fight, I smile and am weirdly proud they get to put that rice out for their families. But it also makes me angry - Thailand's military goverment says the economy is avoiding recession, that the worst is over. But if the worst is over, why are these girls or girls like them still fighting today not competing for fun or simply to represent their school?

They break arms, they break legs; one of the trainers drops this casually into the narrative. Of course they do, these are trained fighters. In a way they're not two children anymore, they're more adult than the grown men betting around them. Except without the betting, they would just be two kids in a ring. 

Without the paycheck and the 'side bets', they wouldn't need to lift weights or pound out the kicks till they drop. That way winning wouldn't be the difference between paying the rent or not. 

What depth of poverty convinces parents to send their child out to work? I worry in the excitement of seeing how talented these girls are, we forget what's really happening here.

Links on Buffalo Girls The Movie to watch the full film.

And thanks to blogger/ fighter Emma Thomas for her list of MuayThai documentaries on her blog Under the Ropes which reminded me of this.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Happy St Patrick's Day!

I know traditionally St Patrick's Day is celebrated with green alcohol and parties, but let's put that to one side for a minute. While everyone else is partying tomorrow, some Irish women will be donning tracksuits and getting down to training. Just another day at the office.

This is just a small selection:

PIC via BBC Sport
Stephanie Roche shook up the soccer world when she came second in the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year. She scored an incredible goal in front of ehm, well dozens of spectators but it was caught on camera by the opposing team. Result? She claimed just over one million of the 3.3 votes cast worldwide, competing against millionaire male superstar players. She's joining Houston Dash in America this month. And tomorrow will be at the White House meeting President Obama as part of the Irish delegation. As you do. 

PIC via Optimum Nutrition
Olympic Triathlete Aileen Reid (nee Morrison) spent time training in Kenya this winter. Sounds glamourous but I'm sure leaving her family behind in Northern Ireland wasn't easy. A silver medallist at the World Triathlon Finals in September 2013 and fifth last year, 2015 will be all about qualifying for Rio2016.

PIC by Josh Lewis
Kelly Creegan is celebrating St Patrick's Day in Thailand for the second year. The MuayThai fighter has spent over a year training and fighting in Thailand now, taking on an English teaching job to fund her passion. Formerly fighting out of Bridgestone Gym in Dublin, she's part of a growing generation of  women fighters who expect to fight regularly and get even get paid for it.

PIC via PaddleSurf Ireland
Aisling Griffin recently won the Ladies British Open Short Boat Championship in paddlesurfing. An impressive achievement for someone from a country with limited access to funding for this minority sport. She will more than likely be driving the coast looking for good waves instead of partying. (*Disclaimer: yes, she is my sister but she's great!)

PIC via Irish Mirror
Those sunglasses aren't just for show - runner Sinead Kane is partially-sighted but has run more races than most able-bodied people. Refusing to allow her disability to hinder her, she lines out with a guide running alongside to keep on track. She hit social media last week when the VHI Women's Mini-Marathon bizarrely tried to keep Kane and her male guide out of the race. A decision they were shamed into changing.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Crowdfunding for "Boxing Chicks" featuring Terri Moss

PIC via Boxing Chicks film
When Terri "the Boss" Moss hits the screen from the middle of a boxing ring in the trailer for "Boxing Chicks" there's no doubting the size of her personality. The next inductee into the Women's Boxing Hall of Fame, she's another fighter I want to know more about.

This latest doco to feature women's boxing is partially the story of how Moss became strawweight world champion having started boxing at the age of 34. Oh, and she had Hep C at the time too. But it's also about how she turned that often-fleeting success into a career as a professional boxing coach.

Director fR3deR1ck Taylor told me: 'I first heard about Terri through the Atlanta film scene. She was pitched to me as a great idea for a film. I am also a big fan of boxing and have been trained by women in the past.

'The team was drawn to the story because Terri is a fighter who never quits at life. This type of story is what Tomorrow Pictures is all about.'

Tomorrow Pictures editor Joe Warner sent me the trailer, and said: 'I was also drawn in by the women she (Moss) trains.  They all come from different backgrounds and had to overcome their own obstacles, but somehow they have all come together under this common interest.  There are so many male boxers that have become household names, even if you aren't a fan of boxing, but that's not the case with female boxing.'

That's so true. I often bang on about the "invisibility bug" that seems to hit women athletes, but doesn't affect men in the same way. So very exciting to see another powerful film on the way.

There's one hitch though - they need money to get the final edit done. So if you're feeling the love after you watch this trailer, then click to 'Boxing Chicks' on Kickstarter.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Scrum Queens shortlisted for sports media award

#BeAGameChanger Awards Women's Sport Trust
For fans of women's rugby "Scrum Queens" is the only place to go. And founder Ali Donnelly's hard work has now been recognised with the site's short-listing as a media game-changer in the UK. 

Even more impressive when you see the competition; BBC Sport, Sky Sport, The Telegraph, BT Sport and First News. So no pressure there then.

Watching women's rugby can be a frustrating experience as unless you're physically at the game finding it on television can be almost impossible. Online streaming by the national federations is the next best step but most of the time I just follow Scrum Queens's tweets on @ScrumQueens for the latest scores. 

They're the only single sport organisation listed, and the only website. Plus of course the only ones run by volunteers. 

What's the award? 

"The Women’s Sport Trust #BeAGameChanger Awards recognise those individuals and organisations doing the most to progress women’s sport.  The shortlist of six will be whittled down to three by the judges later this month before those final three go forward for a public vote to be named winners.

Public voting on this and other categories opens on April 7th 2015. Details on The Women's Sport Trust.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy International Women's Day

It's Women's Day everyday on this blog but I have mixed feelings about this day. Why? Well, just that it exists points to the huge gaps still existing in almost every area of society between men and women. 

So you know already if you are a woman doing sport professionally then you get paid less than men, that sponsors are less willing to take you on. And in light of honour killings, salary gaps, lack of access to reproductive choices and so many other obstacles then sport may seem frivolous. But until women can take part in any part of society which appeals to them, feminism still has a way to go. 

For now let's celebrate that at least in 2015 there are women doing sport professionally and that pay gap is slightly narrower than it was five years ago. In Ireland earlier this afternoon President Michael D Higgins spoke on the importance of #IWD and surprisingly included a reference to sport so we'll take that and move on.

 ·  50 mins 50 minutes ago
President Higgins acknowledges achievements of women in sport and recognises all they have contributed to equality.

 ·  46 mins 46 minutes ago
Gender equality in sport has to be achieved. Young women present have become such great roe models for young girls. Media needs to rec this.

President Higgins acknowledges Katie Taylor and the amazing win by the Irish women's rugby team over Black Ferns. 50% of athletes women


Friday, March 6, 2015

A Cuban's woman battle against the boxing ban on women

If you have even a passing interest in men's amateur boxing you will know the Cubans are simply the best. But I'm ashamed to say when I went to the London Olympics in 2012 to see the first ever women's bouts, I did not notice there were no women from Cuba. 

American documentary film-maker and boxer Meg Smaker has been putting me right: Women's boxing is banned in Cuba. Yes, in the sweet home of some of the best fighters you'll see in the ring, only boys can compete. 

When women's boxing was added to the Olympic list, Cuban head coach Pedro Roque was quoted as saying Cuban women "are made for beauty and not to take blows around the head".  

Smaker sent me this trailer for her powerful documentary "Boxedora" on fighter Namibia Flores. She said: "Namibia trains at a fight club in Havana. She is still in Cuba, we are currently trying to get her a visa for the States."

In the trailer Flores comes across as a strong and skilful boxer, working the bag and the pads with power and swift movements. I can only imagine her frustration as she trains and trains and trains with no end in sight.

I'll be keeping in touch with Smaker and hopefully we can at some point bring you news that Flores gets to take part in the Golden Gloves or in any bout. Promoters - are you listening? 

UPDATE:  April 3rd blogpost : Cuba's only female boxer leaves the country. 

Boxeadora (Official Trailer)- a short documentary by Meg Smaker (Trailer Co-edited with Katherine Gorringe) from Meg Smaker on Vimeo.

As an aside Smaker's Vimeo profile also includes this 13-second clip of  the award-winning filmmaker herself getting hit "really hard" as she puts it. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Meeting female MuayThai bloggers in Bangkok: Melissa Ray

With Melissa Ray in Bangkok a few days ago
Back to reality this week; snow and hailstones in Dublin after two great boxing-fuelled weeks in Thailand. 

I caught up with Melissa Ray a few times including going to fights outside MBK department store one evening.  Melissa was starting out her adventures in MuayThai in Bangkok around the time I was finishing up. The first time I met her, she was sporting a large bandage over one eye after an elbow-filled fight. She's now retired but still training six days a week at Eminent Air gym and refusing to leave. 

You may know Melissa from her blog 'MuayThai on the Brain'

It's really great to see so many female fighters blogging about their experiences in Thai gyms now. When I was fighting there were very few women to talk to about boxing, and the internet was barely a baby. It's an easy way of sharing, and as there are still relatively few women involved in the sport I hope the support available online is inspiring everyone.

Melissa has been based in Thailand for about eight years now; mainly in Bangkok but also in the north in Chiang Mai. If you're looking for a perceptive and Thailand-experienced look at MuayThai, her blog is a great source.