Ruqsana Begum entered the macho world of combat sports as a teenager. Fast forward and, after ten years of training, the British Atomweight Muay-Thai boxing champion is now gearing up for a shot at the big time. Ruqsana had only two and a half years of professional fighting experience when she won the British Atomweight (48-50kg) championship. Spurred on by the early success, the architect proved it was no fluke, gaining a bronze medal at the World Championship in Bangkok. Speaking to me at a Sporting Equals event, Ruqsana said: “I also won gold at the European Club Cup in Latvia in July 2011.”
The Redbridge fighter trains in Bethnal Green and was recently shortlisted for the Muslim Sports Woman of the Year award. “I have always been into physical sports and fell in love with this type of combat at a very young age. More than anything, I’m hooked on the adrenaline and stress release. I can leave all the stresses of life in the gym, and I always do. I had a memorable day meeting the Queen and she asked if it hurt. I told her it didn’t because I’m usually so excited and full of adrenaline. “A training session relaxes me and helps make me a better sister, daughter and friend. My sport helps me to stay focussed, level headed and calm. It makes me happy!”
Ruqsana is trained by Kru Billy Judd at the KO Gym in Bethnal Green in the east end. Her timetable includes six workouts a week involving pad work, cardio fitness and drills. Raised in the east end she is the second eldest of four children. Apart from reaching the top of her sport, Ruqsana hopes to become an inspiration for women. “I want women to tap into their talent. I want them to enjoy sport as it is by millions. Not everyone can be a world champion but absolutely everybody can enjoy sport.
“When I started training my family was naturally worried at my participation in a combat sport, but they have always stood by me and supported me as I walked this path. I left it late to tell them what I was doing, but it has worked out very well. My Dad is my greatest fan.”
Olympic torchbearer Ruqsana has a day job and is seeking funding support. “For many years I have been participating in competitions as a hobby. As I have become successful, the invitations have increased. It’s not cheap and it will cost about £1,000 for me to compete at September’s World Championships in Uzbekistan. I believe that if I can continue with my good progress I can continue to make an impact in the sport.”
Ruqsana, who is an architect, has become a role model and has offered an alternative dream to young people: “I have lots of youngsters approaching me and saying how they identify with my background. You certainly won’t find me complaining if young people can take positive inspiration from what I do and I can do whatever I can to help them. Pursue your passions with vigour and don’t hold back. If you give it your best shot you won’t do badly at all.”
The science technician is also a coach at Fight for Peace (www.fightforpeace.net), a charity which uses boxing as a prevention and rehabilitation model to confront the problem of child and youth participation in crime, gangs and gun violence within disadvantaged communities.
Next up is competing on the global stage: “I have been training for approximately ten years, which is a relatively short time in any given sport. I’m both excited and determined at the prospect of representing England as a kick boxer.” It’s clear to me that Ruqsana has the eye of the tiger. Heading for the World Championships in September she’s focussed on the task ahead: “I’ve prepared hard and I’m dead keen on bringing back a gold medal from Russia.”