The sound of your heart thumping in your ears, the metallic taste in your mouth, voices fading into the distance as you push through the pain barrier…
These are just some of the motions my body put me through when I got a glimmer of what it’s like to train as an Olympic boxer.
I hopped onto the canvas at London Community Boxing expecting to do some light sparring or shadow boxing – the next thing I was doing burpees and holding planks like my life depended on it.
The last time I was that happy to hear a bell ring, I was in high school.
Ramla Ali called time on our session as she congratulated all the women in the room on a successful workout. As she circled the gym like a lioness looking over her pride, I could see just how much this meant to her.
Ali’s story is magnificent and one that immediately inspired me as I stood red-faced and panting in her gym, while she hardly broke a sweat.
The Somalia-born boxer has become a beacon of light for women in her country and indeed, around the world.
As a child, Ali moved to England from her home country as a war refugee before discovering her love for boxing in her teenage years. From there, she went on to make history by becoming the first ever Somalian boxer to compete on the Olympic stage and win international gold medals.
Already a trailblazer for female athletes, Ali would go on to create something wonderful for women of all backgrounds and capabilities.
In 2018, Sisters Club was founded. A space initially set up for Muslim women to train for free, Ali then expanded her idea into an organisation devoted to teaching women who have suffered from domestic violence or sexual assault to defend themselves.
At LCB, an Everlast fitness gym in South London, myself and seven other women were given a taster of what Ali offers in her Sisters Club classes.
The safe space created by Ali was recently threatened with closure due to lack of funding, however. The Ladbroke Grove gym where Sisters Club started off was teetering over the edge, threatening to disband Ali’s hard work, and in turn, the chance to change the game for women.
That’s when Sports Direct stepped into the ring and fought in Ali’s corner, forming a pivotal partnership with Sisters Club to keep the dream alive.
The partnership comes under Sports Direct’s Equal Play initiative – the chain’s new commitment which promises to push for a fairer place for women in sports. Thanks to this, Ali has not only kept Sisters Club alive, but is rolling out all-female classes at gyms around the country.
There are currently four London gyms holding Sisters Club self-defence classes, including LCB, with more locations expected to be revealed in Liverpool and Birmingham soon.
“Sisters Club is for anyone, but primarily those who don’t feel comfortable training in a mixed-gender space,” Ali said of her passion project. “We teach the fundamentals of boxing but more importantly ensure women feel confident to use their skills within the context of self-defence, if they need to.”
Ali’s vision has the potential to reach a worldwide appeal. A staggering 41 percent of young women and girls agree women’s sport isn’t receiving enough funding, but with partnerships like this, the world is slowly healing.
Not only does Sisters Club provide a place for women to keep fit and active, but acts as a haven of empowerment, comfort, and support.
Ali welcomes the women who were picked on at school for the colour of their skin, for holding hands with another girl, for being too shy to compete on sports day.
When these women step into the ring and pull on their gloves, they can be comfortable in who they are, in the presence and safety of their Sisters.
Ramla Ali has also released her first book ‘Not Without a Fight’, which is available to buy in store and online now.