Features | 08 Mar 2022

How Nicola Adams rolls with the punches and glides on the dancefloor

The Olympian two-time gold medallist and undefeated boxing champion spoke to Vodafone on International Women’s Day about resilience, being a role model and Strictly Come Dancing.

“It was 2009. Women’s boxing had just been announced – that it was going to be an Olympic sport. And I remember thinking to myself, oh my god, I’m so happy!

“Then at the same time, I was just laying in bed because I couldn’t move and had damaged the vertebrae in my back.”

This visceral memory would be startling testimony from anyone, but especially so from Nicola Adams, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in women’s flyweight boxing. For Nicola, who spoke by livestream to an audience at Vodafone’s Newbury headquarters to mark International Women’s Day, the journey back to the ring was an incredibly tough one.

She credits the support of her team, friends and family for her ultimately successful but gruelling months–long road to recovery, in addition to her own resilience.

“Every week I gave myself a new challenge that I could complete and work towards to give me a little bit more motivation. I knew my ultimate aim, my ultimate goal, was being an Olympic champion and I created smaller steps to help me get there.”

From rolling with the punches to role model

Nicola not only reached the 2012 Olympic Games in London, she also won the first-ever gold medal for women’s boxing there and was the first openly LGBT person to win any Olympic boxing medal.

Despite the relief of meeting the immense expectations placed upon her – having been tipped as a favourite before she even qualified for the 2012 Games – she says she found the subsequent 2016 Rio Games even tougher due to the intense competition for her title.

“I always had to come with my ‘A’ game. I couldn’t cut any corners. They say it’s easier being the underdog and it’s harder to stay at the top,” Nicola says of the 2016 bouts.

Nicola wears her status as a role model lightly, saying: “I know I represent so many different people, but for me I’ve just always been happy with myself and happy in my own skin.”

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Step change

Having retired undefeated, Nicola took on a physically demanding challenge of a different sort – BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

“I was training from nine in the morning till nine in the evening to get the routine and the steps right!”

Nicola competed in Strictly as part of the first-ever same-sex couple on the programme, a pairing that hasn’t been a one-off much to her relief: “I’m so happy that they’ve continued to represent the LGBTQ community by having Johannes dancing with another guy on this year’s Strictly.

“I’m glad that it hasn’t just been a token to get media press.”

Having already inspired a generation of women boxers, Nicola is keen not only for more women’s sports to be televised, but for companies and society to strive for ever-greater gender equality all-year round – not just on International Women’s Day.

The champ’s advice to other women is straightforward: “Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. I believe that practice and preparation is definitely key going into anything.”

It’s important to be able to “listen to people’s problems …understand them and see other people’s point of view,” she concludes.

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