Sameenah Toussaint (photo credit - Andy Chubb) used to dread Thursday nights - but a desire to roll with the punches saw her graduate from the school of hard knocks with flying colours. The 17-year-old, from Harrow, had a torrid time when she first started boxing. It’s been over five years since she first set foot in Northolt Amateur Boxing Club, strapping on gloves for the first time to duel it out with the boys once a week.
Boxing has long been a sport laced with notions of masculinity and Sameenah got a taste of that archaism first-hand, getting either ‘roughed up’ by Northolt’s male boxers or avoided altogether due to a reluctance to spar her. Now Sameenah has vivid memories of those dark days but knows her experiences of adversity have helped make her hardened for battle.
“I was 10-years-old and my dad, quite spontaneously, just took me to my local gym,” said Sameenah – who is currently received support from RBC through SportsAid. “I absolutely hated it at first - it was quite intimidating and a hostile atmosphere, I was the only girl and the boys were all bigger and stronger than me.
“I used to dread Thursdays when I went - I used to spar with the boys and get properly roughed up. I remember thinking, ‘when Thursday’s over, I can enjoy the rest of the week’. It was tough. The boys would either not spar with me because I was a girl, or go too easy on me, or do the opposite, and take full advantage and batter me.
“I was literally scared - it was tough, but the better I got the more I could hold my own against them and then gained confidence. The more experience I got started building my confidence and my love for the sport, and now I love it.”
Sameenah fought in her maiden competitive fight at the end of 2014 before going on to compete at the National Championships in Sheffield the next year. And it was there where she scooped the first of five prestigious national gongs, soon earning international recognition for England the following year.
Sameenah has evolved from that timid, reluctant beginner back at Northolt into the formidable force she now represents and, even through lockdown, ‘eats, sleeps and breathes’ boxing.
“It was after my first National Championships when I gained a lot more confidence and felt better in the gym - after that, I felt good,” she added. “I used to dread it up until I won my first Nationals, and that kickstarted my career and was when I started to enjoy it because who doesn’t like winning?
“I eat, sleep and breathe boxing. I wake up for school, go for a run or train in the morning, go to school, do homework, have dinner and then go back to the gym. The buzz you get when you step in the ring - it’s so nerve-racking at the start as you’ve put your whole life into it. But what you achieve after, the pride, is a good feeling.
“Luckily, I’ve got a gym in my house, so it’s been alright in lockdown maintaining my overall fitness. It’s just about ring awareness and sparring, but my overall fitness is fine. I missed that buzz of getting back in the ring a hell of a lot. Everyone’s missing it. But my club have been very supportive.”
The face of boxing is changing with the likes of Katie Taylor, Savannah Marshall and Natasha Jonas blazing a trail. Nicola Adams has become a household name after her dual flyweight Olympic success, but it’s the professional side of the sport that also continues to expand, with female fighters getting enhanced opportunities to earn good money from a career in the ring.
Olympics or professional? Without being greedy, Sameenah says she wants a taste of both.
“Up until a few months ago I would have said my ambitions would be at amateur level, fight in the Olympics and then go into coaching,” she said. “But I’m now looking towards the professional scene as I think I’d do well in that category.
“Women’s boxing is definitely heading in the right direction and expanding the right way - people are understanding and accepting it more. At first, people saw it as a sport dominated by men and as not very feminine, but people have opened up to the idea of it and it’s looking good.
“I definitely want to go to the Olympics first and expand my amateur scene, and build my profile before I go into the pros. Paris 2024 or if not, Los Angeles 2028, are my goals.”
Sameenah’s parents, Des and Munira, have provided her with unwavering support as she also studies A-Levels in Maths, Biology and PE at Vyners School. Juggling training and academia hasn’t been easy but Sameenah, who has been financially supported by SportsAid since 2019, is determined to strike the right balance and be a role model for the next generation.
“Neither of my parents have missed a single fight - if one isn’t there the other one is there,” she added. “I was going to go to university to do Sports Science, but I’m not sure at the moment and will see where boxing takes me first.
“It would be a huge deal if I could be a trailblazer and get more girls into boxing - when I started boxing, I had quite a negative mindset and no role models to push me. But I think if I was a role model or an influencer, it would make a lot of young girls enjoy sport more and help grow their careers.”
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PHOTO CREDIT - ANDY CHUBB