In the summer of 2012, the whole city of London was captivated by the Olympics, including myself and my colleagues on our lunch break in the McDonald’s staff room. The thrill of watching the athletes in action was so intense, I felt as though I was on the same journey as them. Usain Bolt’s speed and the boxing skills of Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams had me glued to the TV.
I had been working at McDonald’s since I left sixth form and had not yet figured out my future plans. Seeing my peers heading off to university or starting their careers made me feel as though I was falling behind. However, watching Joshua fight and win the super-heavyweight final that afternoon ignited a spark in me. I thought to myself, “I need this kind of energy and moment in my life.” Then, I set a goal for myself: “I’m going to be at the next Olympics.”
As someone who never imagined myself as an athlete, I wasn’t the most athletic student in school. While others played football at lunch, I was typically waiting for seconds in the canteen. By the time I turned 19 and started working at McDonald’s, I had joined a boxing gym and tried to drop some weight. However, I only went once or twice a week, and nobody believed I could be an Olympian.
Despite my past laziness, I was determined to achieve my goal. I spoke to my manager and reduced my work hours to pursue my dream. I also went home and told my mother about my plans, asking her to fund my life for a while. She was concerned about the danger of boxing and questioned why I was starting so late. I drew inspiration from Joshua’s rise to the top and set goals for myself, working hard every day. I started to see the results of my hard work, and the more I put in, the more I got out.
While my friends and family initially thought I was crazy, they supported me and held me accountable. They reminded me of my goal when I was tempted to drink or eat more than I should. Though it was tough at times, I remained focused and did not give up on my dream.
There were moments when I thought it would never happen, like when I fractured my hand in 2015 and had not yet had an international fight. Despite this setback, I entered the ABA championships with a fractured hand and won my first fight against a guy who had been a finalist the previous year. This was just enough to get me noticed.
When my hand had healed, I went for an assessment with Team GB and was selected to fight internationally for the first time. Within a year, I had qualified for the 2016 Olympics, achieving my dream in less than four years.
Going to Rio was a fantastic experience. I felt proud to say that I was an Olympian too and had the chance to rub shoulders with athletes whom I looked up to. However, the experience taught me that while setting targets is essential, the intent behind the goal matters. I did not set my sights on winning a medal with the same focus I had set for myself to get to the Olympics. Although I was eliminated, I still felt proud of myself for making it to Rio.