In my 12-year career as an amateur boxer I’ve competed in 141 sanctioned bouts.
This doesn’t count every time I laced up the gloves for sparring on a weekly basis. I’ve taken my share of punches.
I won the Canadian national championship nine times. I’m a two-time Pan Am Games gold medallist and a bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Games.
This year, my eyes are firmly set on Olympic gold in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Through all these years and all those fights, I never stepped into a boxing ring without the protection of headgear!
In 2015, the International Amateur Boxing Association announced that, as of 2017, female and youth boxers will no longer wear headgear in competition.
I believe this rule will have a tremendous effect on the health and safety of athletes in the sport.
I believe this rule change will diminish interest in the sport and cause parents to keep their children out of boxing. I, for one, refuse to box without headgear as an amateur.
With the rising awareness of concussions and head injury, it is becoming more evident that we need to protect our brains as much as possible.
There hasn’t been enough research to conclude that it is safer to box without the use of headgear.
Amateur tournaments, including the Olympic Games, consist of tournament-style events.
Boxers must pass a medical the morning of each bout, and in these events, we can sometimes box up to five times in one week.
If you sustain a cut in your first bout it could put you out of the competition completely. The tournaments have now become about who has the toughest skin as opposed to who has the best skill.
It seems too dangerous to me to take such a vital piece of equipment out. Personally, I would be most afraid of the cuts that can come from clashing heads, but the thought of enduring greater risk of suffering a concussion is also a concern.
I always joke that I want to be able to retire from boxing and still be able to look into the mirror without seeing scars all over my face.
I love my sport but I would rather not have to spend hours doing my makeup to cover up the memories once I retire.
I am the younger sister of two brothers, so I always had my guard up. At any moment one of their sneak attacks could be just around the corner.
One of my brothers, Eric, who is one year older than me, was actually the first one to start boxing, and being the youngest sibling I wanted to do what he did, so I pushed my parents to let me join.
Baby sister in the ring
My brother didn’t want his little sister following him up to the boxing club because that wasn’t cool. About a year later, when Eric finally stopped boxing, I decided this was my opportunity to try it out.
My parents were obviously a little skeptical at first, about me joining this contact sport, but they figured it was just a phase I was going through. Eventually, after listening to my coach talk about how safety was the first priority and all the methods amateur boxing uses to insure as little risk to injury as possible, my parents agreed to let me compete.
I remember the first time I stepped into the ring at age 16. I loved hitting things… but who likes getting hit?! It’s a natural thing to close your eyes or to shy away from a punch. And now my coaches are telling me I need to deflect the punch and come back. What does that even mean?
Lucky for me I had the protection of headgear and 16-ounce gloves while I was transitioning through this learning curve. It is very common for a novice boxer to come in with their head down or lead head first. Part of the reason why we have headgear is to prevent nasty head butts, which lead to cuts.
In years past the most noticeable difference when comparing an amateur boxer to a pro boxer was the headgear. Two years ago they took headgear out for males, and from what I’ve seen it has led to less safe outcomes.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I recall one show in particular where there were some less experienced boxers competing.
By the end of the show, eight of 12 fights had a boxer who suffered serious cuts because their opponent had come in with their heads down, which would have been prevented if headgear had been present.
Scar tissue never heals
Head butts can cause cuts so serious that the athlete may have to get stitches, taking them out of the sport for weeks or months.
Even when cuts “heal” there is always a greater risk that the scar tissue can reopen from as little as one punch. These tender spots of scar tissue will never fully heal and will be a risk that an athlete has to carry with them for their entire career. Headgear prevents unnecessary head injuries, especially to athletes first learning the sport.
Boxing gave me a path in life. Because of boxing I learned what I’m capable of achieving if I put my mind to it, and how hard work can and will pay off in the end. It gave me confidence and taught me to face fear straight on and dig down deep when times get tough.
It taught me to be positive in life and to trust in my ability. I only have a few more years to enjoy this pursuit but I know the lessons I’ve learned in the ring are lessons that I will carry through my entire life.
I think there is so much room for growth in Canada for this sport, especially for female athletes. However, in order to allow growth, we must keep our athletes safe. As parents, my mom and dad took all the necessary precautions to minimize the risks that came with allowing their daughter to get in the ring.
For the new generation of athletes who have interest in the sport, how can we expect their parents to support them without something so vital as headgear?
I fear that the exponential growth in cuts, head butts and possibly concussions will darken the image of this sport, a sport I love and want to see flourish in communities all over this country.