Caitlin Parker: “I still have my dream of that Olympic gold medal, I want that medal so bad.”
The usual warmth of home has been replaced by a much colder environment for the elite Australian amateur Caitlin Parker. For the last few weeks, Sheffield has been her home and despite the much colder air Parker told FightPost she has already fallen in love with the Yorkshire way of life:
“I’m really loving Sheffield especially at this time of the year because they have all the Christmas markets on. I love Christmas, every night I will go for a walk and literally end back at the Christmas markets.”
Parker has been seeing the sites, enjoying what the UK has to offer. Visits to London and the world of Harry Potter and elsewhere have given the Olympian a taste of England.
This interview nearly ended before it had begun when Parker told me that she had experienced her first taste of English football a few days prior, well kind of. As a die-hard Blade, it was hard listening when I was told that first sight of the beautiful game was across the city. But maybe sensing my feelings she rectified the situation by failing to remember what the ‘other’ team in Sheffield were called, at least that’s how I interpreted her answer:
“I went to my first match on Friday, Wednesday Sheffield, Sheffield Wednesday’s.”
Parker and the rest of the travelling Australian team travelled to Sheffield in preparation for the world amateur championships which were due to be held in Turkey. However, due to the ongoing and never-ending pandemic, the women’s tournament was postponed until early next year. After nearly two years of hard restrictions in Australia and therefore enforced inactivity the postponement was even more frustrating than it would have been in more normal times especially when the men’s championships were allowed to be completed:
“They have been postponed until March, we were all a bit unsure, we had heard rumours. Coming off the Olympics I felt I needed a break, but I pushed through that because I had the world championships and this time there was a cash incentive for the first time ever. It was $100k for a gold medal, so I pushed back into it and I felt I was ready to go so to hear about it being pushed back to March next year was a little frustrating because as soon as we got here we found out it was getting cancelled. We started looking to see if they were any other tournaments in Europe and luckily there is one in the Canary Islands so we have got a competition there later this month.”
“That’s why we were a little frustrated, the men’s tournament had just finished but now the women’s can’t happen because of Covid. But there were still competitions happening in Europe so a lot of the women in our team were a little frustrated by that.”
The inactivity has been long the only respite was the recent Tokyo Olympics, fighters by nature just want to fight. But as we all have had to do, it’s a case of having to adapt and make the best out of the ongoing situation. The globetrotting Australian squad have based themselves in Sheffield and are enjoying the benefits of the Institute of Sport, home to Team GB and are able to draw on some of the high-quality sparring that is available to them:
“We are all a bit frustrated, but we just have to do what we can do. We all want to fight and while we are here we will try and get those fights in and get some training in. We are getting some great sparring in, I’ve been sparring a lot with Lauren Price the Olympic gold medalist.”
From the outside, the whole Australian team seem a tight-knit group, but Parker and her long-standing roommate Skye Nicolson are especially close. Nicolson recently announced that while still pursuing her Olympic dream she would do so by having some professional fights along the way. Parker is also looking at her options and looks set to follow her friend on the way to Olympic success and the first steps into the professional ranks:
“As we are so close we do a lot of the same stuff. It is a very new thing, most of the female talent was in the amateurs, a couple moved over, but the depth wasn’t really there. But now we are seeing the shift and more are going to the pro’s and the depth is improving, I am now considering it but I am still looking at my options. I still have my dream of that Olympic gold medal, I want that medal so bad and that trumps everything. But there are even the shorter terms goals like the Commonwealth and world championships and I still want to do that in the amateurs so I might look at my options after that.”
“I would do the dual-route like Skye is doing up to the Paris Olympics. And then after that and once I have got my medal I will then concentrate on the pro game. But I would like to dip my toes in before Paris and I can then get the best of both worlds.”
Parker has long held the dream of competing in the Olympic Games, and that dream was realised in the summer when she was part of the Australian Olympic squad:
“I’m still trying to process things because it was something I was looking forward to my whole life. The Olympics has been a goal for me forever. To finally get there was amazing especially after the hardship of the year and not quite knowing what will happen. Even in training coming up to the Olympics I told myself I am not going to believe it until I am actually there and in the ring. Being part of the Australian team was awesome. We had a great team and there was a lot of sportsmanship and things like that.”
But the whole experience was in many ways, bittersweet. The harsh lockdowns at home resulted in limited training and no warm-up fights at the most critical time of her preparations. The final few months in America improved things somewhat, but time lost is time lost and despite her best efforts Parker still feels we saw a lesser version of her in Tokyo. Parker went out in the last 16 of the middleweight tournament, her previous resume indicated she could have done much better with a more normal preparation:
“Having not fought for 18 months I felt very rusty. I was stuck in lockdowns in Melbourne which had one of the longest lockdowns in the world. So I was just stuck there, I could only leave my house for an hour a day. I could exercise around my house, but I couldn’t go to the gym I had no equipment at home it was such a frustrating time. But to get through that and find out last minute we could go to America was perfect and that was a great build-up. But I still wasn’t where I needed to be or where I could have been. I could have been so much better. I’ve beaten all the top girls before, the last time I fought Lauren Price I beat her and she has just won the Olympic gold medal. I know I am at that level. As soon as I jumped out of the ring I thought I have so much more in me and I am not going to let that go.”
The frustrations from Tokyo have only hardened her resolve and desire for the Paris Olympics in 3 years time:
“For myself, I thought I prepared the best that I could. I need my mind to be constantly active and keep myself busy I thrive on that, the mental side of boxing. The next 3 years leading up to Paris I am going to make myself as uncomfortable as I can to make sure I will get that gold medal.”
Gosnells a suburb 20 kilometres south of Perth is a harsh unforgiving neighbourhood, so much so her loving and caring father insisted on Parker not just learning a martial art, but having a black belt before she could walk to school on her own:
“The area I grew up in wasn’t very nice but I am lucky I have such good parents and it doesn’t matter where I lived because I had such good supporting parents who wanted me to do sports because they knew how much you can get out of doing sports. I started out in Taekwondo and my dad wouldn’t let me walk to school on my own until I had got a black belt. That’s how I got fighting but it wasn’t really for me, it was very strict.”
Parker quickly sought out a new challenge, a different type of fighting came into her life. Flicking through the pages of the local phone book, a boxing gym just around the corner was discovered. Out of that search, Parker found where she belonged:
“I started boxing when I was 13 with my coach Peter Fox Wilkinson, who is very tough but I love him to bits he is part of the family now. He was someone who believed in me. The first time I was in the ring I was 13 and I boxed someone in an exhibition who was 25 because they couldn’t find anyone my size I was 70kg even back then. To get in the ring and have someone believe in you there is nothing else quite like it.
“I was never naturally talented. I think what Fox taught me was to be tough. He would throw me in with the guys and yeah a lot of the time I would get a bit battered but I learned to be tough. I’d go out the back and have a little sniffle, but that taught me a lot. So when I got into the ring for my first actual fight I won 21-0 I just would not stop, the skills came later. I got as much experience as I could going to the different training camps I pick up different things every time to add to the toolbox.”
Parker has had many highs so far in her boxing career with the promise of far more to come. Achieving her life-long ambition to compete in an Olympic Games was a bucket list moment realised. But maybe even more so was competing in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in her home country where she won a silver medal:
“I think the two happiest moments in my boxing life so far would be the Commonwealth Games and qualifying for the Olympics. Qualifying for Tokyo was incredible, I think that was the happiest moment of my life, you build it up so much, the doubts and things like that and once I was in the ring it felt amazing. But before that, it was the Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games are actually more popular in Australia, it’s really big there, we don’t have the European Games or anything like that. With it being in Australia there was a lot of pressure on us. I drew Natasha Gale first who was the gold medal favourite. My family were going to fly in from New Zealand to watch me, but they were only coming over for the semi-finals, so I had to get through Gale first.
“I was nervous all week, I shut myself down, just stuck to myself. Before I walked out I was thinking don’t worry about the cameras or the big crowd, stick to the plan and just look at the ground, she was there just staring at me trying to stare me down. But as soon as I got out there the crowd was just incredible, the noise was like a roar and I went yeah, it felt amazing. I boxed and stuck to the game plan. That for me was my first career-best moment and my family could come over and watch me fight to.”
The success of any fighter is often down to many moving parts, the importance of her coach has already been highlighted in the development of Parker. But her parents have sacrificed many things in the pursuit of glory for their daughter. That sacrifice hasn’t been lost on Parker:
“They are a big reason for where I am now because of the sacrifices they made to get my brother and myself into sport. We are from a rough area so they don’t have a lot to give but they have given everything that they can. My dad worked two jobs seven days a week for most of my life and would still come to the boxing gym every night to support me. My mum did the same, she worked two jobs, and she is a great cook, she would sell pies and things like that just to support us. she would do anything she could to support us. They are everything to me, and I do this not just for myself but for them.”
Parker has achieved plenty in her career, but it still has the feeling of a story that is just getting started. The Olympic dream is still alive, the gold medal around her neck is what she craves more than anything. Paris could then lead to a professional career with world titles the new aim. A more than realistic aim.
You get the sense when Parker talks about making herself as uncomfortable as she can, that she is a fighter who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Fighters are plenty but the ones that achieve their goals are very much in the minority. Parker has the look of a fighter who will be one of the few.