Seven years ago, a peerless Katie Taylor stormed to a historic Olympic Gold medal in London. It was the deserved finale after a remarkable journey, a monumental moment for women’s boxing and a welcomed lift for a proud nation.
At the same time, a 12-year-old Ciara Walsh was sitting at home in Smithfield, Dublin, watching on. Suddenly a seed was sown and a dream dreamt. Walsh wanted to be a boxer.
“I had an interest in boxing from watching Katie Taylor in the Olympics. It came from that,” Walsh explains. Taylor is now a unified world champion, but her real legacy is the generation she motivated. “That often happens. You watch something and pick up an interest. I was at home watching; it was inspiring when I saw her. I said after that I’ll give it a go.”
She now trains at Smithfield boxing club. It took time to build up to competing. Initially there was much to learn and skills to be honed. That was time well spent, the teen is now an Irish national champion. She is quick to credit that meticulous process for the platform it set.
“Most boxers in my gym come straight in and fight but it took me years. That is a long time, there are kids in my gym who compete after months. It wasn’t a quick process. It was quite slow. But eventually there were girls who had been boxing much longer than me and I was able to beat them.
“There is a lot more to boxing. The work ethic is completely different. There is so much to it. People think it is just throwing a punch but there is more than that. You would not think your hips are involved in it. It is not just a punch or bouncing on your feet or moving this way, it is combining so much. There is a method. It is complicated but it is more enjoyable that way.
“You are not just learning about your fist; you are learning about your whole body.”
In Smithfield Walsh found a sanctuary. The club became a home and its members her family. At first, she enjoyed the sport because it got her off the streets. Now it has become about significantly more than that.
“They were so welcoming. They just treated me brilliantly from my very first day. I was so shy and they made me feel like I had been there for ten years. I was terrified but they were treating me like they were my mother or father; I would never leave the club because of that.
“I am very confident now. A few years ago, I couldn’t even speak to you! I would be sitting in the corner saying I can’t even talk. Boxing is about more than the physical stuff. It is mental too. You get confidence, dedication, motivation.”
Taylor was a trailblazer and Walsh is determined to follow a similar path. Women’s boxing has burst onto the mainstream and the Irish teen is keen for a piece of it. This will not happen overnight and she understands that. Her Irish title was a significant leap on a journey of a thousand steps.
But sport is not perfunctory and Ciara Walsh is a testament to that. This is about more than winning. For all she has given to achieve her remarkable rise it has given just as much back. There is no mistaking the distinct passion in her voice; Walsh is good at this game and the game is good to her.
“There is a buzz from doing the work and from winning. There is huge work you put in, the many hours out running or doing pads in the gym. You know the work you have done and then you get a bigger buzz when it pays off.
“The last five years now I breathe boxing. It is so beneficial. Boxing includes running, it is not one dimension. There is gym work, movement, a mix of everything.”
At the heart of it all is the club. The gym will take part in Dublin Sportsfest this year with an exhibition boxing, fitness and sport at their clubhouse, DCC’s Aughrim Street Sports Centre.
To register for the event visit: //www.dublincity.ie/sportsfest
For the youth of Smithfield and beyond, it is a place of where they are accepted and appreciated. Coaches who are also confidants and training partners who become friends. A place of perpetual connection from top to bottom.
“It keeps me off the streets. It is great for the young kids coming in. They are not out on the corners. They see a different vision and room to be different people. All our coaches are not local, they come from all different areas and bring different things to kids’ lives.
“That is the centre of my community. It is a great way to gather kids together and to meet new people. People travel from outside to the club in Smithfield, you get to know new people and they get to know you. Especially in our area, kids gravitate to the boxing club. It gives people something to do.
“It helps the community, the whole works.”
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