Boxing puts you in good shape, but it also shapes your personality powerfully. Read the article to find out how this girl shed her insecurities and started empowering women.
Sabrina is a national boxer on the Singapore Female Boxing Team. She has been boxing for 8 years and has won the Esker Boxing Club Championship in Ireland in 2019, before COVID-19 put a pause on her competitions.
We chat with her about boxing, what it means to be a female in this field, and how the sport has shaped her life.
Tell us about your origin story!
Okay, when I tell people this story, it is so not what they have been expecting (laughs).
It started when I was in secondary school, and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was a big thing. I was a little insecure at 15, and I came from a girls’ school, where everybody was insecure to some extent. We all wanted to have a certain body type, to be pretty, have good skin…
So I looked up one of the models, Adriana Lima, to find out a bit about her regime and found that she had this boxing regime with her trainer, which was quite popular at that point of time.
I knew then, that I wanted to pick up some sort of martial arts after that, and the first thing I tried was taekwondo. I went for one session and I wasn’t very good at it. Also, my parents didn’t want me to do it when they found out that it involved kicks to the head.
I remember them saying “We have never beaten you and now you want other people to kick you in the head?”
That is quite funny. They must have been wondering why you wanted to put yourself through pain. So how did you end up boxing, if taekwondo was forbidden?
I didn’t want to give up trying to find a gym my mum would be okay with. So I Googled boxing gyms in Singapore, and found a good one.
I actually convinced my mum to let me join it, in the name of fitness. My whole family is very into sports and keeping fit. My dad and brothers play soccer. My mum used to run competitively, and now she does functional training.
Still, my mum was afraid of her daughter getting hurt. But she eventually supported me, only because I told her that we won’t actually be hurting one another in the training sessions, since the normal classes don’t have sparring, just partner work.
And how did it all pan out in the end? You’re a national athlete now. That means you’re giving and taking very hard punches. Was your mum okay with that?
At first, she wasn’t. It started when I was asked to join the fight club in my gym. My mum was very worried and sent an email to the gym saying that she would not allow her daughter to take part, because who would take liability if her daughter was injured?
I told myself that there was no way this was going to happen. At that point, I had been training very hard in the gym every day for two years, and I was not going to let all my training go to waste. So I wrote a fake email to the gym after that, and pretended to be my mum, saying that she changed her mind.
That was not the right thing to do (laughs) and I eventually got caught when my mum saw my competition shirts in the laundry. My mum was very angry — she couldn’t understand why I wanted to get involved in a sport which seemed to be violent. Thankfully, my mum’s friend talked to her about this and changed her mind.
Her friend told her that since I am the type of person who is very determined to meet my goals, I was going to end up boxing at one point, one way or another. She convinced my mum that it would be better to be supportive of me now, than to wait till I get injured. Because what if by then, I feel like I can’t turn to my mum for support?
That changed my mum’s perspective. Of course, she does worry for me a lot. Still, that doesn’t stop her and my dad from supporting me so much — from funding my sports camps so I can follow my dreams, to even running sprints with me at the stadium when I didn’t have my teammates to train with.
Iʼm sure most women (or first-timers) who step into the gym find it a little intimidating, especially if you’re surrounded by burly and extremely muscular men. Didn’t you ever experience something like that?
I was lucky, I was able to go for the trial with a friend and the people around me did not look intimidating. But when I signed up for the kids class, there were many kids who were a lot bigger and mature looking than I was. I remember I used to be really intimidated and introverted. I would look at the floor as I came in, and didn’t talk to the other kids as much.
But that changed when I joined the adults class. Everyone was super forthcoming, and all the people helped one another, especially ladies to ladies. They helped me correct my technique, and I got to make friends in the process — even with the burly muscular men who seemed intimidating at first. There was no judgement, and it was just one community.
So that was my experience and I think I was lucky. But I could imagine a lot of other girls might go for their first trial and be intimidated.
How did boxing shape you as a person, other than actually getting you in shape?
I wasn’t the most secure person back then, and at the very start of my boxing journey, I used to worry about what I wore to the gym and had an extreme diet. I became extremely skinny and couldn’t even do a pull-up. I think I was in the beginning stages of becoming bulimic.
It was only after I met and talked to more people in the gym, I discovered that it’s common for women to feel insecure like that. That lifted the pressure off me, and I realised we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.
I used to worry so much even about wearing a tank top because I was concerned if my arms looked too big. But now I just throw on any shirt and just head to the gym.
I think we as women care about factors we cannot control too much. We should control the controllables, and seek advice from people in the right support systems. This is something I still struggle with, but I always have it at the back of my head.
Other than that, boxing made me more confident and less of a pushover. I am not afraid of doing things myself either. I travel to countries alone without fear because I know I can protect myself.
For my last question, I want to ask you about the reason why you box. When you first started, it was because of insecurities you faced. What keeps you going with boxing today?
One thing that keeps me boxing is my will to prove to people that hard work can help us achieve our goals. I also want to inspire as many people as possible, especially the youth who might find the unconventional route of becoming a boxer daunting.
The second thing that keeps me going is the ability to give women a safe space and community that they can be comfortable in as they pick the sport.
A few of my boxing teammates on the national team and I came up with the idea of starting a community. Our senior boxer, Leona Hui, did an awesome job of facilitating the whole process, and now we have a space that helps women feel stronger and more confident without feeling like they are being judged.
Something about boxing, even though it’s so physical, affects your personality. I have seen how the girls I have influenced to start boxing are more confident, determined, and disciplined.
So overall, you could say what keeps me going in boxing is growth and the ability to inspire others to be better.
More than just seeing women become stronger, seeing their self-love and self-worth increase means a lot. Boxing is such a rewarding sport, and I hope people start to see this sport for its benefits.
This article was published in partnership with Diageo Southeast Asia to celebrate International Women’s Day.