Shona Whitwell: “I don’t like to look too far ahead, but seeing other girls turn over it does make me want to do it.”

Shona Whitwell: “I don’t like to look too far ahead, but seeing other girls turn over it does make me want to do it.”

The best route to success in any sport is to start early. But maybe the St Ives amateur boxer Shona Whitwell took it a few steps too far. Shona told FightPost her journey into boxing started when she was only 5 and it could have been even sooner:

“I started when I was 5. My dad runs the St. Ives Boxing Academy and from the age of 4 I was begging my dad to join and he said just wait while you are 5. So I started when I was allowed to and I have been going ever since.”

Of course, any thoughts of any kind of fighting future for someone so young was the furthest thing from the young child’s mind. Feeling part of the family business and just doing it for fun was the only motivation at such a young age until Shona realised that she had a real talent for boxing:

“When I was younger I just wanted to do it for a bit of fun. You don’t really take it seriously when you are 5 it was just a bit of fun. I was 12 when I had my first fight and that’s when it started to get a little more serious. I went into my first ABA’s when I was a schoolgirl and that was when it was a points system and I literally won it by just one point. It was my first ever National title, and I think it was then I realised I was good at it. I was buzzing at being a National champion, I was about 14 I think.”

Starting so young boxing was always in her blood and Shona had no real ambition or thoughts to do anything else in her life. Boxing was her life. With her amateur career starting to flourish in a major way, her education had to suffer somewhat. Boxing always came first:

“I’m the kind of person who just goes with the flow. I’ve never really got into education because I always chose boxing first. After I completed my GCSE’s I went and did my A-Levels but after the first year I got selected for the world championships, and I basically had to choose because they wouldn’t let me do both. So I just left and did a whole year for nothing pretty much.

“I went to China and Taiwan for the world championships. I came back and I thought I would give college ago and I did two years at college. I was doing business studies and I don’t know why because I only got a D in my GSCE’s in business studies. I didn’t really finish that because at the same time I was training for my first senior Elite title. I was training so hard at the time and I was taking it really seriously, and it paid off because I won. So I never completed that course. I have never really known what I wanted to do outside of boxing, it has always been boxing.”

As her career rolled on and titles were won, Shona always seemed destined for the top in her sport and in 2017 and when she was just 19, Shona found herself on Team GB. But the call-up to the National squad was the start of a frustrating period. Shona had started to suffer from the effects of Scoliosis which causes a sideways curvature of the spine:

“I’ve got Scoliosis and there’s nothing I can do about that. I could have an operation but I would never be able to box again. It affects me daily but it is something I can manage. The Dr said if you didn’t do the amount of training you do it probably would affect you a lot more. It was actually a growth spurt when I was 12 that caused it. I don’t think it is getting any worse, it stopped getting worse when I stopped growing.”

After fighting through the pain of Scoliosis and learning to manage the condition, even worse was to come. A trip to Italy for the European Championships nearly ended with her career at an end:

“In 2017 when I first got onto Team GB I got picked to go to the EU Championships in Italy. In a fight, I got hit with a shot and felt dizzy. I made it through the fight but I had a concussion and it lasted for 18 months. I had vertigo, I had headaches and they didn’t know what it was. I saw specialists in London but nobody could find out what it was. I was going up to Sheffield trying to train and get back into it slowly, but I couldn’t even warm up without getting dizzy. It was horrendous I was just going to Sheffield for about a year just doing the bike. Team GB said at the moment there is nothing more we can do for you, basically telling me I should leave, go home and see if it gets better because it was probably making it worse coming up here.”

It was a time when Shona thought her career was over. Unable to train in any sort of real capacity, an opportunity to go to the 2018 Commonwealth Games was taken away from her. Her entire life had been boxing and not much else and Shona now faced the real prospect of a life without boxing until a recommendation from a friend changed everything:

“I went home and I had to get a full-time job. It was an office job, like an admin job. It was just horrible, to be honest. I didn’t think I would be able to box again and I got proper depressed about it. But then someone recommended a chiropractor so I thought I would give it a try. And literally after the first session, I felt better already. I then saw him about 3 times a week for 3 months. I then managed to start training again.”

Shona was soon fighting again and winning and very quickly she was back within the Team GB family. But when the pandemic hit in March 2020, there was more frustration for her and Shona had to endure more time away from boxing:

“In the 5 years I have been on Team I haven’t had much time up here to be fair.”

There had long been hopes of qualifying for last years Tokyo Olympics, but the recent times of many frustrations, the physical and mental pressures of boxing and a deep talent pool of fighters for just the one Olympic spot left Shona admitting to herself Tokyo just wasn’t meant to be:

“My weight category was a little crowded. There was Caroline Dubois, Paige Murney, Gemma Richardson and me. I am not going to lie it just wasn’t my time. I lost my head a little bit, I have been boxing since I was 5 and sometimes it does take its toll and I was just going through the motions a bit. Caroline deserved to go, she was on form at the time.”

Shona is now back in the groove and very much looking ahead to the next Olympics in Paris in 2024. A recent gold medal in a tournament in Hungary shows her intent:

“I am very confident for Paris, I am very focussed now, my head is back in the game I’ve flipped a switch. It’s not that far away, the qualifiers will be next year.”

Paris isn’t that far away but with the professional side of her sport currently in a boom period, the temptation to join the party is obvious. Promoters are looking for new talent for their ever-expanding rosters and Shona would be an obvious interest to the likes of Matchroom and Boxxer. For Shona, it could be a case of when and not if she joins the professional ranks:

“I don’t like to look too far ahead, but seeing other girls turn over it does make me want to do it. But I’m not sure when I would do it. I have been in the ring with the likes of Sandy Ryan and Ellie Scotney, and seeing how well they are doing it is definitely something I want to do. It is only going to get bigger. It is an exciting time for women’s boxing.”

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