Ex-boxer on fighting for equality, surviving trauma and making peace with retirement

In the 10 years that have passed since the London Olympics, most of the talk has been about legacy – and in many sports, it’s not entirely clear what that looks like. In boxing, however, it looks like a beaming woman of just 5ft 4in who has just become the first female gold medalist in history.

It looks like Nicola Adams, who is still the face of women’s boxing a decade on, even as Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano are selling out Madison Square Garden and Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall are preparing for one of the biggest grudge matches in history. In short, women’s boxing is in a very different place from where it was when Adams first became a household name.

“When I started I was the only girl in my gym and that’s totally changed,” she tells i. “I can’t believe it’s been a decade now. I was over the moon when Lauren Price won gold [at Tokyo 2020]. She’s brilliant and it was amazing to see another British woman take home a medal at the Olympics. I hope these wins continue to serve as an inspiration for young girls thinking about getting into boxing.”

A lot has changed for Adams personally in that time. She has become a mother, with girlfriend Ella giving birth this summer, and renovated their house, both of which have helped her to avoid the pitfalls of retirement.

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“I feel like I made my peace with retiring fairly early on,” Adams says. “I was immensely proud of my career and had achieved all my goals which made it easier. Of course, I am an athlete at my core so at times I did have to battle with my competitive side that wanted to do better and continue to win.

“But overall I think I was able to adapt to my new life and I’ve really been enjoying the perks of no longer competing professionally – fewer early starts, being able to be more spontaneous, not having to always stick to a strict routine and getting to spend more time with my friends and family – I feel very blessed that I will have so much more time for my baby too.”

Now 39, she still trains regularly using FitXR, a virtual reality fitness club with immersive whole-body workouts. She hosts training sessions in the metaverse that are “as real and immersive as possible”, to combine two of her passions, “gaming and fitness”.

Adams also took time to promote the recent all-female card at All Stars gym to raise awareness of domestic abuse, of which she herself is a survivor. In the past, Adams has spoken of sleeping with a hammer under her bed to protect herself.

“There are definitely misconceptions about the women who participate in women’s boxing, and this event helped to challenge them,” she says.

“Violence against women does not discriminate – it can happen to any of us. As a woman who is perceived as ‘strong’, I have found it difficult to come out and speak about my past experiences, my trauma and my vulnerabilities, fearing it would make me be perceived as weak, shattering some sort of illusion. But it has only ever made me feel more resilient and more empowered and the support from others has been amazing.”

As a young girl, despite dreaming of becoming a boxer, Adams did not have any female role models in the sport. There were so few fellow female competitors that she would wait “months, even years” for an opponent.

Now, 10 years on from her first gold medal in London, she has seen Taylor and Serrano fight at the same venue as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. “I didn’t have anything like that to aspire to, so it fills me with joy to know there were young girls who were able to turn on the TV and witness something as inspirational and momentous as that. I just hope that energy continues.”

That progress is indeed continuing at the Commonwealth Games, where there will be six weight classes for women when there were only three in the past. Still, Adams points out, “there is a vast gap between the amount of men’s boxing, and the fees they can command compared to women’s”.

“I still think we have a long way to go.”

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