East Belfast woman Fiona Nelson began boxing for fitness... now she's a champion
When Fiona Nelson decided to start training at her local boxing club the most she hoped for was to lose some weight. But just 18 months later the east Belfast woman has punched her way to All-Ireland glory.
She was recently crowned senior elite champion – just weeks after taking part in her first competitive bout.
The 31-year-old youth worker fits training around her work schedule, and is often at the gym as early as 6.30am.
"I hadn't intended to box when I joined the club," explained Fiona.
"I wanted to do the Total Warrior challenge – an obstacle course in Leeds – so it was more about losing weight and getting fit.
"I did a wee bit of kick-boxing before but that was it. I had no boxing experience whatsoever."
However, staff at the club noticed Fiona's talents and persuaded her to give it a go in the ring.
Her first competitive bout came at the Irish novice championships a few weeks ago, and she followed that up by taking silver in the Ulster elite championships.
That led her to the All-Ireland senior elite championships, where she overcame defending champion Lianne McAree-Murphy to reach the final. There, Fiona beat Diana Campbell from the Garda Club in the 81+kg final.
She has now been invited to train with the Irish elite squad.
"It hopefully will lead to international competition – the sky is the limit," she added.
However, her journey to the top has come at some cost. "Sometimes I'm in the gym training from 6.30am to 8am before I head off to do my day's work," she said.
"I train every day. They keep telling me to take a rest day, but I have trouble with that because my idea of rest is climbing up the Mourne Mountains."
Her coach Terry McCorran praised Fiona's achievements: "To go from never having boxed to being an All-Ireland senior elite champion and being picked for the Ireland squad is fairy tale stuff."
East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland, who has been following Fiona's journey, said it was a great news story for his area. "This isn't just a boxing club, it's a dream factory for hundreds of young people in east Belfast," he said.
"Fiona entered the Irish novice championships several weeks ago, then got silver in the Ulster elite championships. Now she's become the All-Ireland senior elite champion for 81+kg and is on the Irish elite squad. To work your way onto the squad is a great feat. It is something everyone strives to get, but so few manage it."
Coach Terry McCorran