14.02.2018 - Thoraya Abdul-Rassol was on a one year assignment as Support Officer with the Samoa Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC). She returned to New Zealand in December 2016.
On our first evening in Samoa, Ellen, Cat and I went for a walk down the road and saw a sign for a boxing gym, Plantation Boxing. After inquiring about times and prices we went along to a class. I fell in love immediately and have been going every single day since.
Four months after going to the gym every day, the co-owner Inga approached me about fighting in one of the corporate shows. I awkwardly laughed and didn’t respond to the question (could he actually be serious about me fighting? Better laugh rather than fall for the joke). Then a couple of weeks after that he asked me again, then again and again. I was starting to get an ego! I told him I would do it if he seriously thought I could hold my own in the ring. I didn’t want him to flatter me just to have another fight spot filled. He said he was and after I spoke to his son Bubba, I realised I might be able to do this. I said yes.
So it was decided, I would fight at the end of November. I wasn’t sure whether Inga would be able to find an opponent for me, since my height and weight isn’t common for a 22-year-old Samoan female. But I wanted to push myself physically and see how fit I could get. I decided that if they couldn’t find an opponent for me, at least I would be super fit (training in the morning is a lot easier when you have something you’re training for). So three months out, I started going to morning and evening training every day. I was constantly tired and hungry but it was still really enjoyable.
Nerves all round
With one month until the fight, I started getting really nervous. Who would I go up against? Did I even have a chance? I usually talk to my mum about everything but I couldn’t tell my mum, because she didn’t know I was going to fight.
I wasn’t only nervous about the fight itself, in fact the majority of my nerves were about how people would react to the news of me fighting. I thought I would get laughed out of the ring (no I’m not exaggerating), I thought news broadcasters and radio hosts would make fun of this small Muslim girl going up against a local. I thought people would boo me when I was fighting. Naturally, this just made me want to win and prove everyone wrong should this turn into a reality. But the nerves were still there.
Two weeks before the fight, we had a press conference and everyone wanted to interview the only girl there. What happened next, I was NOT expecting. No-one laughed. No one made fun of me. I had support, people recognised me (as more than the girl who rides the white bike) and wished me luck for the fight. All this with still no opponent.
Literally two days before fight night, an opponent was found. I had no idea what to expect since I’d never seen her spar or train. The night of the fight I had so many butterflies I was basically hovering above the floor! I couldn’t keep still! The boys backstage were trying to calm me down, saying I had nothing to worry about, but I was still so restless. The nerves weren’t just about the fight, but about the crowd’s reaction. Even though the media was really nice, I didn’t know how the crowd would react on the night.
When I walked out, I heard cheers from my fellow VSA volunteers. Thankfully the butterflies left and I was focused. Bubba and Harold were my corner guys and despite the jokes backstage they had my back and were really encouraging. ‘Tune the crowd out’ I told myself, ‘don’t let them get in your head’.
The bell for the first round went. Sadly I don’t remember much because it went by so fast, but what I do remember is getting a really good punch in, then another, then hearing cheering… for me! I honestly couldn’t believe it. I knew where the VSA family was but there were cheers for me coming from all over. I wanted to stop and look at who they were! And it didn’t stop with the first round, it carried on. ‘Go Thoraya!’ ‘Go red!’ ‘Yes red!’ When your arms are tired and you’re getting smacked in the face, hearing that really does give you more energy to keep going.
The fight ended and the result was in. I won. YAY. I didn’t say anything beforehand to anyone, but I really wanted to win, even though I don’t consider myself competitive. People shook my hand and congratulated me on a good fight.
My favourite part about this entire boxing journey is being proved wrong.
I was so nervous how people would react to me fighting and assumed things would be said about me that weren’t very nice. Paranoid yes, but because of past experience. My nerves and worries were for nothing and I’m so glad!
Thank you Samoa. Thank you for giving me support when I thought something like a headscarf could get in the way. Thank you for proving me wrong and showing me the world isn’t all ignorant. Thank you for seeing me as an athlete and not as all the nasty names I’ve been called my entire life. Thank you Plantation Boxing family (Inga, Bubba, ‘the boys’) for believing in me and pushing me more than I thought I could go. Thank you Dora for being my opponent in such short time, for pushing me and for making it a good hard fight.
What’s the point of this blog?
I realise it sounds like a speech with all my thank yous but the point of this blog isn’t to toot my own horn. Rather, it’s to illustrate that when volunteering, you should find something to do in your spare time for yourself. Whether it’s gym, reading, hanging out with the local kids, offering your services to another organisation, or going out with friends every Friday, it’s good to have something to keep you busy and look forward to. Without Plantation Boxing I actually think I would have started to go loopy with all the spare time I had not studying.
When volunteering, you’ll get back just as much, if not more, than you give. Boxing gave me confidence in myself both because of the athletic aspect and because of the support I received.
PS: I’m retiring from boxing; I’m going out with 0 losses and want to end my career on a high.