Oxford’s Sportswoman of the year, Rachel Wheatley, won over thirty fights last year.
A boxing and judo champion, she has represented Great Britain at both the European Universities Championships and the European Universities Games.
For many athletes at Oxford, being selected to compete at BUCS is a dream, Rachel has medalled at BUCS in both boxing and judo… every year she’s competed…
Alongside training and competing internationally, Rachel is captain of Oxford’s Women’s Judo Team and Welfare Officer for the Oxford Amateur Boxing Club, having previously held the Presidency and Captaincy of the Judo Club.
We caught up with her for a quick chat following the awards, during Oxbridge’s ‘This Girl Can’ Week.
BB: Boxing & Judo, a unique combination! How did you get into fighting?
I’ve done Judo since I was five, – my dad helps run the local Judo club. As for boxing, I have Claudia Havranek thank. We did a sports swap: she is an incredible boxer and has recently made the Great Britain team!
BB: Both sports have historically been male-dominated. Have you seen a change in women’s participation in these sports?
At Oxford, there has been a huge increase in the number of women in the boxing gym in recent years – which has been really great to see. The coaches do an incredible job of supporting and developing women in the sport, and always produce a really strong team for the British Universities Boxing Championships.
Outside of boxing and judo, there has definitely more women getting involved in historically more male-dominated sports, powerlifting is another example. Also, I think there has been a change towards more positive body image attitudes associated with being strong and muscular as a woman in general.
BB: You mention body image, particularly being ‘muscular as a woman’. Is this perception something you’ve had to deal with often throughout your career?
I’ve frequently been asked whether I am concerned that training and weightlifting will give me arms and shoulders that are ‘too big’, ‘butch’ or ‘like a man’! I’ve heard friends voice concerns that they want to go to the gym… but they ‘don’t want to get huge shoulders’ (if only getting big shoulders was that easy!).
Being strong is AWESOME, not just for sport, but for everyday life!
BB: You’ve played a huge role in encouraging female participation in both sports at Oxford. What do you say to females who are considering getting involved?
Starting any new sport can be scary, particularly not knowing what to expect. My advice to anyone considering it is go for it.
Everyone is a beginner at some point, and the Judo and Boxing clubs are both so friendly, great at teaching the fundamentals and are very inclusive. OUJC runs a beginners course over Michaelmas term each year, which takes people from complete beginners to grading, and then to getting their first belt at the end of term. It’s a great way to try the sport, alongside a group in exactly the same position (and you don’t even have to pay any subs until you join for the rest of the sessions in Hilary term J).
BB: Finally, what’s coming up next for you?
Three weeks from now Claudia and I are heading up to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield; her to fight in the GB Boxing Championships and me to fight in the British Senior Judo Championships. The boxing champs are just a few days before the judo champs, and I am really looking forward to seeing her compete!
- Favourite sports icon? Kayla Harrison, Double Olympic Champion at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. She is an incredible role model, athlete and sportswoman.
- Most valuable lesson you’ve learnt? Don’t miss hill sprints… And to train hard. And to believe in myself.
- Hardest session you do? The training session the day before weigh-in, when you’re cutting weight. Pretty brutal!
- Favourite sporting moment? When I was younger, winning the British Schools Championship. This was pretty special. More recently, representing GB at the European University Championships over summer was pretty exciting!