“It wasn’t the case of I have this disability and that’s all I can do, that’s all I am, it’s that I have this disability and I won’t let it stop me.”
Those are powerful words from a tenacious figure in the boxing sphere at the University of Sheffield.
Alex Fraser, a final year business student, is the Sports Committee Inclusions Officer and was captain of the boxing club for the last academic year.
As the university community celebrates Disability in Sport Week, with numerous events put on by the Students’ Union Sports Officer, Sarah Morse, and Sports Committee, Alex sat down for a chat at Goodwin Sports Centre to talk about her route through sport.
Alex has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.
According to the NHS, it affects around seven times as many women as men, with the condition typically developing between the ages of 30 and 50. It can though, as is the case with Alex, take a hold at a much younger age.
Not that she’s let it stop her pursue her goals and ambitions, though, despite doctors saying she may have to quit sport.
That simply wasn’t an option.
“When I first found out that I had fibromyalgia, I was told never do any sport because you’re probably going to hurt yourself, this, that and the other, and actually that made me worse,” she said.
“Being told I shouldn’t do sport was wrong because it’s something I love. I’ve been in sport since I was six or seven years old, and to have that taken away from me because of a disability I didn’t really know I had until it started to cause issues for me was hard.
“Before my 18th birthday when I’d not realised how I needed to combat my issues, the doctors thought I was going to be in a wheelchair. I couldn’t walk for more than five minutes, I couldn’t walk up the stairs without being in agony, but that’s just the issues I face.”
The condition means that Alex takes longer to recover than the average athlete and it makes training a particularly arduous task.
But when Alex knew that she could be the first female boxer to take part in Varsity when the Octagon filled out in March 22 this year, that was all the motivation she needed; even if it was slightly nerve wracking.
“I was the first ever female Varsity boxer for the University of Sheffield and that was amazing. It only lasted a minute-and-a-half because it got called, I won on a technical knockout which was great but also disappointing because of the work it took leading up to the event,” she added.
“It was nice to know that despite all the things that were going against me at the time I was able to do it.”
“It was good to get one over on the lads.
“It was terrifying. I went out to this really badass song because I said I need a really good walkout song, strong, for it to be a woman and I picked Wreak Havoc from Suicide Squad. It went off! I walked up the wrong part of the stage first because I wasn’t paying attention, but once I was in the ring I was dancing away and thought I’ll be okay.
“Then my opponent came out to Roar by Katy Perry. I thought, okay, I’ve gone too hard.”
It’s an achievement no-one can take away from Alex, and she wants to use Disability in Sport Week as a platform to encourage others to take the jump and get involved.
“There’s been a shift in what disability is,” she said.
“A long time ago people thought those with dyslexia were just people who were a bit slower. As times are changing, more people are recognising disabilities and recognising that they’re problems people face. People are then thinking about ways to solve this and to come up with solutions as to what can be done to help.
“I’ve made friendships that I’ll leave university with through doing sport.
That’s why we’ve got social sports, Residence Life and Give It A Go sessions. You can go and try it once and if you don’t like it, great. In my first year I tried a lot of the social sports because I wanted to see what my body could take and I found some sports were fine, others I said no way, my body won’t forgive me if I do that.
“I always wanted to do boxing and I stuck with it after. Aqua was really good for my muscles but for others it might not be as useful. It’s finding out what works for you.”