FINALLY, after years on the GB squad blighted by bad luck and accident, Shona Whitwell is at the World championships in Turkey, her first major international tournament.
Whitwell has had to come back from career-threatening injury to reach this point. In 2017 she boxed Mira Potkonen, the strong Olympic medallist. “I got a head injury from that fight and I was out for about 18 months. I was at GB just trying to get better. I basically got a post-traumatic concussion. I was dizzy and stuff like that. After about a year trying to get better on the programme they had to let me go home and try to recover,” Shona explained. “At one point I was quite depressed because I thought I’d never be able to box again. Because I’d up here for a year, just sitting on a bike, trying to at least do a bike and try and not get dizzy. Warming up on bags, I just couldn’t do it. [Using a stationary bike] that’s as far as I could go really. They sent me to the best doctors in London, they couldn’t really pinpoint what it was. They tried loads of different things, loads of vertigo, balance stuff, just none of it worked. Went home, completely shut off from boxing.”
She continued hoping to recover, but had to find herself work in an office and was left inevitably wondering if her boxing dreams were over. “I got a full-time job for two months working in an office, absolutely hated it,” she said. “I’ve done [boxing] my whole life, I’ve been in the gym since I was five years old. My dad’s my coach [at St. Ives] so I begged him to let me join the gym at five years old.
“I had my first fight at 12 and I’ve done it ever since. It’s all I’ve known really.”
The office job then wasn’t for her. “Just an admin role. It was awful,” Shona said. “You come from being on this programme to then go in an office for two months. That motivated me even more to get back here. I just knew what I wanted to do.”
She did recover eventually and got herself restored to the GB programme. “I’m grateful to be back. Back fit and healthy. It’s a good feeling,” Whitwell said. “It just makes you more hungry for it, because you’ve seen other people take your spot or whatever, I could have gone to the Commonwealth Games [in 2018]. It was heart-breaking to see but I feel like everything happens for a reason. I feel like now is definitely my time.”
Whitwell has shown she can compete with the best. As well boxing as Beatriz Ferreira, the reigning World gold medallist, she’s beaten Sudaporn Seesondee before, the Thai who eliminated Caroline Dubois from the Tokyo Olympics. “I boxed [Seesondee] in 2019 in Belarus and had her in the finals, boxed two days prior to that. I beat her convincingly, unanimous decision,” Whitwell said. “It does give me a bit of confidence knowing that I’ve been in the ring with some of the best in the world. Obviously at the time, she’d just won a silver at the Worlds.”
Lightweight is a strong category in Britain alone, let alone internationally, so Whitwell will need to perform at the World championships in Istanbul. “I feel like I’ve earned my spot so I’m looking forward to getting out there,” she said.
“I’ve always had people at my weight because it’s such a good category. But I feel like sometimes I thrive under pressure. There’s always going to be that pressure there, I’m used to it.
“I’ve been on [GB] for five years now but for half of it I’ve been injured. So I’ve always just fallen short at tournaments like this and majors. But I’m as fit as I’ve ever been now, injury-wise, mentally and physically, I’m good to go now.”