Rhiannon Dixon: Life In Lockdown
When I last spoke to Rhiannon Dixon the world was a much simpler place. Everything seemed normal, then suddenly and tragically things changed.
In February Dixon was preparing to put her unbeaten record on the line. A date was locked in for late March, a highly-promising career which started last year, was about to take the next step and 2020 looked like being a very productive year indeed.
But now everything is on hold which obviously includes the boxing career of the Warrington native. The fight scheduled for March 21st was cancelled in fight week:
“I was gutted. My fight camp was finished, the last week is just about maintaining weight or just going over a few things you want to practice, just winding down really. Then Boris Johnson made that announcement that all public mass gatherings would be banned, I couldn’t believe it. You spend all that time and that happens. I was in camp for my fight in December and training with James Moorcroft for his British Title Eliminator in January. I had been training in camp since December.”
We forget that the ongoing pandemic had been around for quite some time, and rumours of the lockdown were all over the news and social media long before the inevitable happened. Dixon was like many fighters who had fights scheduled and had to finish their camps under a period of great uncertainty:
“I kept on thinking it might happen or it might not. I just thought how are the emergency services going to deal with it, would they be there, how would it work with the ongoing pandemic issues. It was hard to get that motivated for the fight with all the uncertainty, but it was still a massive let down when it was eventually cancelled.”
Fights being cancelled have a financial impact on the fighter, hidden costs that are not often highlighted:
“I have to pay for training, workout clothing and I have to have time off work, unpaid, for sparring.”
Even though we in the UK are allowed out for exercise, it is difficult for a fighter to replicate what they would normally do in the gym. In my previous interview Dixon told me about her brutal schedule of being up at 5 in the morning to train, then work and then train again after work. The current situation must be one of frustration for any professional athlete:
“I have been trying to keep with my workouts, but it is not the same. I have been doing pads with my boyfriend in the garden, and we just end up having loads of arguments. We do some sparring as well, because he is a boxer as well. I think our neighbours must think after an argument we just go in the garden and have a fight. With the running that is fine, but I can’t go to the gym and lift weights. I think it will be hard when we go back with boxing fitness, it’s different between being fit and being fit for a specific sport. It will be when I get back in a ring, and even just getting used to a gumshield again, you can’t breathe with them in.”
Even when people are allowed to go back into a gym, for a fighter there are still obvious concerns with Covid-19 still posing a risk physically and mentally:
“It might never go away, and I just think with training now, if you are ill or show any symptoms then people will just have to stay away from the gym. People tend to think I will be fine and I will just train through my illness, but to be on the safe side and not risk passing anything on to other people, they will just have to stay at home.”
Without the normality of training as it once was, and no immediate return in sight, maintaining motivation is an obvious problem:
“You haven’t got anything to work towards. The problem with our shows is we need the revenue from ticket sales to pay for everything. The big shows have TV deals and PPV options to compensate for lack of paying customers. Also, I am losing motivation because I am more stressed out with work. I come home and I just want to relax with everything that is going on with work, but I know I have to go and train and just think that it will end one day and we can get back to normal, but I don’t know if I will fight this year or not.”
The stresses of being a key worker during the current ongoing pandemic are obvious. But I don’t think any of us can really understand what people working on hospitals wards unfortunately and sadly have to deal with. Dixon works on the wards at the Whiston Hospital site in Prescot, a stressful job at the best of times but one that must be truly horrific now:
“One of our Orthopaedic surgeons actually died of the virus the other week, it was really sad. They did a really nice tribute for him. The hearse came around the entrance to the hospital and everyone clapped for him. I’m not an ICU pharmacist so I can’t see what’s going on up there. It’s just so sad reading about people coming in and being diagnosed with the virus. They are just sat on their own because there are no visitors allowed whatsoever, it must be really lonely for these people coming in. We are trying to have as little contact as possible because we don’t want to spread it around the hospital. But things are improving, I am doing more and more discharges now, so it looks like a lot more people are going home.
“The Coronavirus ward is actually one of the safest wards, you know everyone in there has tested positive, and we all take the maximum safety precautions to protect us and everyone else. In our hospital there is hand sanitiser absolutely everywhere, everyone has got all their PPE on. In a supermarket you haven’t got that and you could be touching baskets and things and the virus might still be on them. But at work, everything is constantly being wiped down every hour, everyone is really meticulous on the ward with cleanliness and hygiene because we know how dangerous it can be. I feel really protected while I am work.”
Dixon told me in our previous interview how she loves her job because she feels she is making a difference and it is telling that even now at the worst time the NHS as had in recent memory, that job is done with no complaints.
Before the lockdown Dixon had the opportunity to spar with the current IBO and the WBC super-featherweight champion Terri Harper and was supposed to be going to Spain to help her prepare for her now postponed fight with Natasha Jonas:
“Terri is so nice, when I go somewhere to spar someone I get dead nervous. But she came over to me with her coach Stefy Bull and made me feel so at ease.
“She is actually one of the nicest people I have met in boxing. It is good sparring with people like Terri, they are so technical, they are always trying to set things up and looking to counter. They might look as though they are going to throw something, but it is really to counter you. It is really good experience for me, you learn so much, they know what you are planning to throw, you just can’t beat that sort of experience.”
Unbeaten in two fights as a professional 2020 was looking like a big year for Dixon, a fighter with very real potential, which is not lost on her teammate and fellow professional James Moorcroft:
“I think Rhiannon’s capable of going all the way to becoming a world champion. Her work ethic in the gym is unreal. She trains in the morning, goes to work as a full-time pharmacist in the hospital and trains with us again at night. Now if that’s not dedicated to the sport I don’t know what is. Most of all she’s one of the nicest people in the world you will ever meet and has time for everyone and anyone. In a few years time she will definitely be a world champion.”
Very high praise and expectations indeed, but there is little doubt they have much validity. There is something about Dixon which impresses greatly. Assured, dedicated and ambitious without a hint of arrogance. An ambassador for Gloves Up Knives Down, a grassroots initiative to get young people off the streets and into boxing clubs, highlights the social awareness of the Lee Blundell trained fighter.
Boxing is an important part of a young life, a sport that has helped build up a fragile confidence, and is undoubtedly a sport where great heights will be achieved.
Despite only turning professional last September the Warrington lightweight is already rated the 3rd best at her weight. Once we return to normal life, Dixon is certainly a fighter to keep an eye on. The hype looks certain to be followed by major titles.