Having worked with youth in the voluntary and statutory sectors for the past 16 years incorporating personal and social development plans for young people, Fiona Nelson had never anticipated a successful career in amateur boxing.
But with support and training from City of Belfast Boxing Academy she has gained considerable recognition as one of Northern Ireland’s most accomplished female boxers.
Now featured in the Titanic Museum’s latest exhibition, “Boxing”, as part of the 2016 Belfast Photo Festival Youth Edition, the former All-Ireland Senior Elite Women’s Champion hopes to challenge perceptions of female athletes:
“For me it is important to highlight females in sport in general as they are very under represented and not only is there little to no investment, there are a lot of negative stereotypes and tokenistic attitudes shown toward female athletes.”
“It is important as a youth worker to inspire young people and challenge inequalities and I feel, especially in boxing, from my experience, there is little to no support to promote female boxing making it difficult to sustain females in the sport,” she added.
In 2014 Fiona won the Irish Novice Championships. Her success was followed up just four weeks later taking the silver medal in the Ulster Elite Championships after a defeat in the Ulster Hall. That led to the All-Ireland Senior Elite Championships where she trumped then champion Lianne McAree-Murphy to reach the final and claim the title in her championship bout against Diana Campbell:
“The defeat in the Ulster Championship was a real learning experience about nutrition and the balance of work and training. To come back from defeat and never give up is the characteristics of a winner,” she said.
Fiona had joined City of Belfast Boxing Academy in a bid to get fit for a Total Warrior Challenge. From there, her interest in boxing as a means of fitness developed.
Telling herself that she was “too old” to begin training in such a gruelling sport, it was coach Terry McCorran who convinced Fiona otherwise:
“With Fiona I saw fantastic attitude, ability, and she hurt me when she hit me for the first time when I took her on the pads,” he said.
“I hope this exhibition will highlight the inequality and lack of opportunity in sport, particularly boxing, for women and maybe make a difference for young girls coming through,” he added.
The exhibition is currently on display in the Andrews Gallery at Titanic Belfast until May 30, and pairs boxing photographs by Belfast based photographer Richard Wade and American photographer Larry Fink. Fink’s boxing photographs developed from an assignment to photograph businessman and legendary boxing manager Jimmy Jacobs whereas Wade’s body of work focuses on Northern Ireland’s rich boxing heritage and includes portraits of former Commonwealth champions Martin Rogan and Eamonn Magee.
For more information visit www.belfastphotofestival.com.