(Reuters) - After a life of dealing with many hardships, British professional kickboxer and Muay Thai champion Ruqsana Begum believes no obstacle is too big to overcome as she prepares to make her boxing debut.
Begum, 34, has experienced more problems than most athletes having fallen in love with kickboxing after trying it in college but being forced to hide her passion due to her gender and conservative background.
“At that point, my family didn’t actually know I was doing Thai boxing, they just thought I was going to a normal gym,” Begum told Reuters.
“On top of that I had the extra struggle of being Asian, being Muslim, being a petite female in a male-dominated sport, so I just knew it was out of the question for me to pursue a sport such as Thai boxing.”
Begum studied for an architecture degree at university and after five years of secrecy, she told her family about practicing Muay Thai and started fighting professionally in 2008.
Begum was also diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a disease also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, but continued to defy the odds and joined the British Muay Thai team in 2009.
She went on to win multiple British and European medals and eventually won the World Kickboxing Association title.
“I have had all of those obstacles but I have managed to overcome them. It demonstrates the fact that no obstacle is set in stone, it’s just there for you to overcome and it’s temporary,” she said.
As the 5ft 3in light flyweight prepares to begin her boxing career against Bulgaria’s Ivanka Ivanova on Saturday, Begum says inspiring other women to deal with their challenges is her main motivation.
“All I wanted to do was become a world champion in Thai boxing and I did that and then I thought to myself, the fact that I did that inspired so many females from all backgrounds,” she said.
“In particular, my faith and ethnic minority backgrounds... this is what really inspires me to be the best that I can be and push myself and excel in a more mainstream sport to inspire the next generation.”
In 2016, Begum launched her own line of sports hijabs to inspire more Muslim women to take part in sport.
Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond