Women & Sports: Sylvia Scharper, Australian ANBF Boxing Champion and Victorian WMC Muaythai Champion (2X)
Some inspiring words from this months Women & Sport feature, Australian ANBF Boxing Champion and Victorian WMC Muaythai Champion (2X) Sylvia Scharper.
"I hate the idea of women been deterred from a sport because it is male-dominated. I want those women to join in the movement, smash down any barriers they need to along the way, and be undeniable."
With every success, I set even bigger goals. And with every setback, I became even more relentlessly determined to improve.
I have always been a tomboy at heart and a teeny bit feisty. I spent most of my childhood (…and adulthood let’s be honest) play fighting with my brother. So, I always enjoyed some rough-and-tumble. I stumbled across Muaythai during my University years through the suggestion of a friend. Once I started it became more than I could ever have imagined. I found it challenging mentally, physically and emotionally. It was so good for my fiery soul.
Eventually I wanted to test my abilities and the way to do that was to compete. Once I began competing in Muaythai I kept setting the bar higher. I wanted to fix every chink in my armour and boxing was one of my weaknesses. I could not throw two consecutive punches. Although when I initially started boxing I felt completely inept and it really hurt my brain (still do, and still does, let’s be honest), I fell in love.
What does it take to be a professional athlete?
It takes desire, grit and a tonne of work ethic. It is easy to think you ‘want’ something but to actually wholeheartedly ‘want’ it – is a whole new playing field. For me, I grew to ‘want it’ and learned just how much over time. As my love for the sport developed, I grew more and more determined to constantly improve.
With every success, I set even bigger goals. And with every setback, I became even more relentlessly determined to improve. So, I believe to be a professional athlete you need to be prepared to go through those lows. It is usually through enduring the lows that you evolve to a new level, and with that comes great highs.
Lastly, I think you need to be willing to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. Anytime you put your heart and soul into something, you are vulnerable, and there is nothing more uncomfortable than that.
Was their anyone in particular who tried to stop you from becoming a boxer?
Many have definitely been confounded by my choice to fight. My mum has probably been the hardest one to get on board because she has always likened fighting sports to gladiatorial games at the Colosseum. Some barbaric event where people applaud violence. Her lack of understanding around the skill and strategy involved is quite typical of people who have never been around combat sports.
Last year, Mum came to one of my fights for the first time and I think the experience challenged her ideas of what the ‘scene’ is like. I think she has come to understand combat sports for me is not about violence but rather an art form that call for physical and mental tenacity, skill and strategy.
My husband is very supportive and the fact that he used to fight is a big factor in that. He truly understands the whole process, how all-consuming it is, and the level of effort and time required. Also, he is a big believer in doing the things that feed your soul.
I have definitely faced certain pressures as a female. As an adult, a woman and a step-mum, I have often felt this need to almost justify pursuing this path. Notwithstanding, the age-old question, “When are you going to have a baby?” There also seems to exist this idea around adulthood and the thinking that continuing to pursue a passion is somehow tied in with failing to mature and a lack of taking responsibility.
I feel as though there is a tendency in society for people to slowly, over the years, start to let go of the things they love, for life and its responsibilities, and make choices based on either what they are told or conditioned to think they ‘should do’. As if letting your dreams fall to the wayside is a part and parcel with becoming an adult.
For me, this type of thinking is what slowly erodes the soul, where life becomes a robotic monotony bereft of personal satisfaction or joy. For me, having passions, individual to you, is key to living. The types of activity that you blissfully get lost in, where you are fully present and totally engaged. The stuff that provides meaning, gives satisfaction and a sense of achievement. The stuff that feeds your soul. I have family, studies, career, a home, and fighting.
What’s the best age to start boxing?
Who has been your greatest influence in the boxing ring?
My idol in boxing has always been Mike Tyson. Tyson was a supreme athlete, not just for his brute strength but also for his speed, timing and evasiveness. He brought into the ring a powerful presence. His intensity and ability to command the ring was incredible. He brought such controlled ferocity and completely imposed his will on his opponents and went to work in devastating fashion. I love powerful pressure fighters who come to fight but who are skilled and strategic in doing so.
Of course, the Ellis family. The Ellis’ know boxing. They live and breathe it. Lester Ellis is an Australian icon for a reason. His skill, speed, and tenacity was mind-blowing. As I mentioned, I love pressure fighters, especially those who have the ability to finish. The family has grown up immersed in boxing. They truly understand the science of this sport and have an incredible ability to verbalise this knowledge. I am constantly in awe by how much knowledge I have access to. Team Ellis has always supported my hopes and goals, taken me under their wing. I feel truly smug that I get to fight under the Team Ellis banner.
What’s the best advice you could give other women and girls thinking about starting up boxing as a profession.
Throughout my training in Muaythai and Boxing, I have never been dismissed because of my gender. Largely because I do everything the guys do. I do not allow them to separate me from the men. I have always worked hard and have always been taken seriously and treated with respect. However, I have noticed that as a female there is always a need to do that little bit ‘extra’ to prove you can match it. Initially, at least. So, my advice is, if you want to be taken seriously, take it seriously.
To pursue it at an elite level, you will definitely notice the divide between men and women, in terms of opportunities, sponsorship and coverage. I think the key is to not let the imbalance swallow or consume you. At the end of the day, my dream is to be a full-time athlete because it would allow me to focus solely on my boxing without distraction. It would allow me to have the time to train and recover. The reality is men and women alike mostly do not have this luxury. My view is this: this is my dream; nobody has to support my dream. So, my advice is, it is your dream, nobody owes you anything, forge your own path.
Lastly, surround yourself by good people and train in a good environment that marries up with your personality, values and goals and all will be well.
Why do you think more women don’t box?
I think the most popular misconception about boxing is that it is an aggressive or barbaric sport, along with the notion that you need to be a brute to compete. Boxing is called a sweet science for a reason. Refining technique and building fitness and endurance are merely stepping-stones. Boxing is about mastering the self and the art of combat. The strategy involved in boxing is something that is completely missed by the untrained eye.
Once people start boxing they become aware of the intricacies involved in not just the technical application of the moves but the strategy involved in hitting and not getting hit, controlling the pace, setting up traps and having forethought. Yes it calls for toughness but one must be tactically tough to have success. More than that, you need a present mind and loads of self-belief.
What kind of reception do women who box get when the turn up to fight?
Look you are always going to have the occasional dimwit who is anti-women fighting and thinks it is going to be boring. But the world is infected with dimwits in every domain. Haha.
I can honestly say I always get a great reception. I have had more than one standing ovation over my years of competition. If you fight with all of your heart, people respond. Women are tough, gritty, and technical; so any misconceptions are usually put to rest once the bell go.
How can we improve the boxing profession to include more women?
I think the climate has already changed. Gone are the days where you are the only female in the gym, and it is impossible to get matched, and it is novelty to have a female on a fightcard.
Over my years within the sport, the growth of women in combat sports has been mind-blowing. We still have waves to make but we are moving in the right direction. Women are finally been taken seriously and been seen as perfectly capable and why shouldn’t they?
Can anyone train with you?
Absolutely! Hit me up!
Would you like to see more women in the boxing ring? Why?
I hate the idea of women been deterred from a sport because it is male-dominated. I want those women to join in the movement, smash down any barriers they need to along the way, and be undeniable.
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You can buy tickets, see her starts or read more about Sylvia via her website