It’s just turned 7:30pm and Newcastle’s Students Union is packed. It’s the second fight of the night. There’s an ironic divide in the union: physically, between those willing to pay extra for an exclusive table with a better view of the ring VS. those with a more limited vision of the ring (but arguably closer access to the bar). The metal barrier is not the only division. The hosts are also rallying supportive cheers for Newcastle University students and pitting this against the competitive cheers of Northumbria University students. Boxing, they reminded me, is a battle between two.
Here comes the hotstepper booms around the walls of the SU, much to the crowds enthusiastic delight. Na na na na naa Na na na na naa… Georgia McMillan enters the ring and her supporters scream her name at the top of their lungs. Gumshield in. Headguard on. Adrenaline high.
These next ten minutes will determine what she’s been working towards for over eight weeks. Three training sessions a week, healthy eating, dedicating her days to the physical and emotional turmoils involved with boxing. She has to make this count.
In an interview just the day before her fight, the nerves were beginning to nibble away but she was nothing more than ready to battle it out at a sport she had previously never taken part in.
When asked about the training process, she said: “Tomorrow night is the result of all that work. I’m very excited, obviously nervous, but I think your body is just ready to fight as well. You put in so much effort, have so many ups and downs, that you just want something to come of all this. I’m feeling ready.”Georgia McMillan
Dealing with the difficulties of entering what has, until more recently, been a male dominated sport, setbacks in endurance training, being told she must adjust to wearing a headguard just two weeks before her fight (with little explanation). There have been a multitude of hurdles that she has endured and overcome, to the point that she was already a champion in my eyes.
When asked what her friends and family’s initial reaction was to her signing up, she said: “I’m not a very aggressive person generally, I look quite weak. You don’t look at me and think ‘oh, she’s super strong.’ At first people were like ‘really, you’re doing Fight Night?’. Yeah, okay, I’m not as strong as Anthony Joshua, but I could definitely give it a good go. People initially look at you and think you’re not aggressive, you’re not strong.”Georgia McMillan
She had also been telling me about one of the fitness sessions, in which all the fighters had to carry another person up and down a slope, amongst sets of running up and down stairs, crawling on your hands and knees along the beach and performing endless sit-ups. Upon carrying her companion, everyone was amazed at her ability to keep going without putting her down and starting again. “What’s the point in that?” she had said to me, “You’re only making it harder for yourself.“
Georgia is aware that there is still a disparity in male and female boxing; currently women must still wear the headguard, whilst men do not. This is due to research that has shown the headguard may do more harm than good for male boxers: it obscures vision, hearing and can increase concussions. This could be the same for female boxers, but as it remains a young women’s sport, the research has not yet been conducted. It feels as though we have to keep pushing more women to get into these kinds of sports, whilst also inspiring other figures to close this gender-gap in research.
I asked her why she thinks it’s important to push women to try out sports they might be intimidated by:
“Boxing especially had this whole view that it was young guys that are aggressive on the streets. That’s changing though, and women won’t see it as ‘well I can’t do that – I’m not rough and aggressive and from the streets, so why should I do that?’ It’s actually a really technical sport and it’s so rewarding when you do get it. I think it’s good to push women to see that side of it instead of it just being a sport that aggressive, angry guys do.”Georgia McMillan
I am no boxer myself, but she ignited something in me that made me want to pick up the gloves and get in the ring. Her advice to anyone contemplating the same was: “Just do it.” She has ignited a determination in me, whether I am fighting or pursuing a passion.
Yes, Georgia is a hotstepper. Nimble, resilient, fierce. She is not a “female fighter”. She is a fighter. And a bloody good one at that too.
Featured image: Fight Night (I have permission to use these official photos)