Inverness High School pupil Sarai Grant, 13, had no intention of going to the female sessions being held in her school in May 2019 when Liam Foy stopped her in the corridor and encouraged her to come along.
In addition to being the Head Coach at Highland Boxing Academy, Liam also works at Inverness High School and knew of Sarai as someone that was excelling at other sports, and thought that same aptitude might make her good at boxing.
The sessions were the first as part of 20 Active Schools sessions that Highland Boxing Academy would hold in four Inverness schools between May-December 2019 as part of the Boxing Scotland Woman and Girls Fund Project, after the governing body had successfully received £13,600 of funding from sportscotland to increase female participation in the sport.
Ten affiliated boxing clubs across Scotland took part in the project with 1,261 participants taking part in the 164 Active Schools sessions and 18 Regional Female Training sessions that were hosted between April 2019 – March 2020.
Despite never having put a pair of boxing gloves on before that day, Sarai was a natural and when the school sessions finished at Inverness High School, she followed on to join the club over the summer of 2019.
Sarai would continue to train at the Merkinch club over the coming months in addition to attending the Woman and Girl Fund sessions that were hosted each Friday 5pm-6pm, which had transitioned after the summer from the school setting to being hosted at the club’s gym.
Sarai would eventually register to become a competitive boxer in September 2019 and would be entered into her first competition, the Boxing Scotland Novice Championships, two months later, where unfortunately she would lose.
However, undeterred, Sarai would enter the Boxing Scotland School and Junior National Championships in February 2020, which she would win to become Scottish champion – just nine months on from throwing her first punch as part of the Woman and Girls Fund project.
“I heard her name popping up in the school and knew she had a willingness to engage in sport and I could see some similarities with some female boxers I have worked with in the past,” explained Highland Boxing Academy Head Coach Liam Foy.
“When I approached her in the corridor about coming to the boxing class she wasn’t dismissive in any way, and I could tell that she fancied trying it, and it all fell into place after that.
“With some people you can see immediately that they have grit and determination and a fire in their belly, and you could see all that with Sarai straight away. We knew she had a competitive edge.
“She looked like she was hungry and wanted to push herself and challenge herself. I knew that she had the potential to compete pretty much straight away, although I needed to see how committed she was.
“But ever since she first came to the school session she has been in the gym right up until this lockdown. Even when she lost at the Novices, it made no change to her participation.
“After she lost at the Novices, I said to her and her Mum and Dad that I was confident she would win a title very, very soon.
“I said she has potential and everything she is doing is right, so it was not a matter of if she would win a title, it was a matter of when.”