Hannah Rankin, 26, is a musician by day and a professional boxer by night. She shares with us how her Gymbox boxing VPT Noel Callan manages to save her hands from damage while they are working towards the European Championships, and how she feels it's time for women who box to be taken more seriously in the UK.
I'm a musician. I’ve been playing the bassoon since I was 15. I did my undergraduate degree back home in Scotland at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I then gained a place to do a Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2012. Since graduating in 2014, I've been freelancing in various orchestras as well as teaching flute, clarinet and music theory in schools in and around London.
When I originally moved to London I'd been doing Muay Thai Boxing, which is why I ended up training at Gymbox! When my original trainer left I was handed over to my now manager Derek ‘Sweet D’ Williams, former European, British and Commonwealth Heavyweight Champ. This was when I really started to love boxing. I love the discipline of the sport and putting all the different techniques into play.
Interestingly boxing has had a very positive impact on my music career. It's improved my confidence in performing, and has put performance nerves into perspective for me. A musical audience is always a lot less rowdy than a boxing audience! Both are forms of performing. The difference with boxing to music is that there is always a definite outcome– win, draw or loss. In music it's very subjective, so it's refreshing to compete in boxing and get a definite answer for your work.
Boxing is very important to me. I have an amazing team around me pushing me to progress, and supporting me towards an end goal. As a musician you spend a lot of time on your own practicing, whereas with boxing I always have Noel there to bounce ideas off; check that I’m doing the right things, and pushing me to learn new things.
I started out doing white collar boxing, which is a chance for anyone who has ever fancied doing a fight to have a go. It’s a great way to get fit as you train for 6-8 weeks prior to the night, and then you compete in 3 x 2 minute rounds. It's a great challenge, and even if you don’t win on the night you will have got super fit and learnt some new skills! I was super nervous on the night of my first fight! I wanted to show Noel I’d managed to take in some of the things he’d spent ages teaching me!
The most nerve wracking part for me is the walk out to the ring, most people seem to enjoy this bit but I didn’t, (and I still don’t!) once I was in the ring I actually felt a lot more comfortable, as I knew what I was doing there. Something that nothing can prepare you for is just how tired you will be after the first round. The amount of adrenalin you use in the first round being nervous will hit you and you will feel more tired then than after any training session. To be honest all three rounds went past really quickly but I won and it was an awesome feeling when I got my arm raised after the fight. After that I was hooked and I wanted to compete again asap!
I first met my trainer Noel Callan two years ago. Derek introduced him to me when I had got to the stage of wanting to do my first white collar fight. Derek couldn’t be in my corner, so he asked Noel who thankfully agreed! We hit it off. He pushed me, and understood my drive to learn. He’s just as competitive as I am. Most importantly he understands that music is my other career, so he's always taken special care to look after my hands in training as I need those for work! We also now incorporate musical rhythms when I need to look at learning a new combo a different way. That’s been the best thing, he has a different way of looking at everything, and if one thing doesn’t work he will find another way for me to get it.
It's extremely important to get on with your coach. Your coach is the person that has to know you inside out when your fighting. They're the person who will know if there's something wrong with you in a fight, and could ultimately save your life. We go through the highs and the lows together. There are times when we drive each other nuts, especially when I have to be on a strict diet to cut weight, which can make me very grumpy!
I'm a bit obsessed with training and competing. I'm a perfectionist! To be a musician you have to practice a lot, so naturally I applied the same level of practice to boxing. I also love the challenge of trying to be the best – it’s what drives me to achieve more. When you compete it's a chance to try out all the new things you've learnt, and see if you can outdo your opponent. iI’s only you and them in the ring, so it's down to you.
When I'm in training camp I get in two training sessions per day and usually one rest day. This involves footwork, defence and working on the pads with Noel, as well as regular sparring sessions. I also do strength and conditioning sessions to improve power, and make me quicker, fitter and stronger. Lastly, I usually have to get a cardio session in each day, so I run and do sprints or drills on the stairs.
I'm about to enter professional boxing, and I'm extremely excited! We’ve worked hard to get to where we are now, and I think it’s the right time to move on to the next chapter of this journey. I’m also nervous, but who wouldn’t be?!
It is a juggle to manage performing, teaching, training and fighting. I have to be extremely organised, as I need to make sure I get enough training in each day, as well as practice. I also need to teach, as this is an important part of my income as well as the concerts. I’m very lucky that I don’t mind getting up early to train or practice as I’m a bit of a morning person! However, I do have a bit more of a flexible schedule then most people, and Noel usually finds time to fit me in when other people are at work.
Winning feels great, but even so I sometimes leave a fight feeling disappointed. This is mainly because I didn't manage to achieve things we have worked on in training. That’s just my nature though, I always want to improve. I think it's also important to have another thing in your life – in my case, music – because sometimes achieving in other ways gives you confidence to maybe try new things, or push yourself that little bit more.
There is definitely a lack of support toward women in the sport. It comes from this archaic idea, especially in the UK, that women shouldn’t fight, and that boxing is only a sport for men. Thankfully the success of Nicola Adams has really helped promote boxing for women. She's a great role model for young women in the sport. People often assume, wrongly, that I want to box so I can go down the Olympic route. People are often surprised that it is possible to be a professional female boxer. Attitudes in the UK need to change, and female boxing needs more visibility on TV, and promoted properly like it is in Mexico, Europe and Scandinavia. I want to be seen as a good boxer in the sport, not a good female boxer. Changing people’s attitudes is important to me.
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Read Noel Callan's interview on what it's like training Hannah here.