After a divorce at 41, I channeled my anger into boxing

As I pounded the quiet country lane, I could feel fury coursing through my body.

It was 2009 and I was married, living in the Cotswolds with two young daughters. I worked as a TV presenter on a motoring programme, and to some people I may have had an enviable life.

In reality though, I’d just found out that my husband wanted a divorce after four years of marriage. I was struggling to understand it and take it all in.

I was completely devastated and heartbroken, but also very angry.

Everyone deals with things differently but instead of breaking down in tears and wallowing in pity, I knew that in order to cope with my extreme emotions, I needed to throw myself into an extreme activity as a distraction.

I’ve always loved a challenge, and had always been a fan of boxing.

So I had the idea of training to become a boxer and to fight the ring. 

My daughters were eight and 10 at the time and when I told them about my idea they were worried, and begged me not to. 

As friends heard about it, they were concerned… questioning what wasn’t exactly the most conventional hobby for a midlife divorcee mother-of-two

It didn’t deter me though. I reasoned that it would kill a few birds with one big, heavy stone.

I decided that if I learnt to fight properly, I could direct some of my anger and anxiety into focused training. 

So at the age of 41, I stepped completely out of my comfort zone. I found a local boxing coach and went along to my first boxing coaching session.

I’d done women’s ‘boxercise’ classes before but nothing like this. Standing in the tired old gym full of real boxers, I felt like a fish out of water.

The coach put on pads and gave me gloves and began teaching me how to hit them properly. He seemed surprised to tell me that I was actually really strong!

It was so full on, physically and mentally, that I had to focus completely on the here and now, and I loved that about it.

After that I started training hard for three hours a day, for 11 months, fitting it around when the girls were at school, or in bed. I had been told it would take about a year to get ready for entering the ring – and also that they would find me a fight and an opponent when they could see I was ready.

As friends heard about it, they were concerned. Some asked me if I was sure about it, questioning what wasn’t exactly the most conventional hobby for a midlife divorcee mother-of-two. 

But it was too late – by then I was already hooked!

I felt physically strong, which helped me to feel mentally tougher. I felt like I could better handle what was happening to my life.

I ended up losing two stone, and felt fitter than I ever had been before. I became toned, lean and felt amazing.

So, aged 42, I was finally ready to compete in the ring at a venue in Banbury, Oxfordshire, against a woman called Kirsty who, at 21, was half my age. I was utterly terrified!

I attended the weigh-in that afternoon with the only friend who was prepared to watch this spectacle.

After the weigh-in I hung around skipping, shadow boxing, loosening up until it was time to fight.

When the time came for my fight, I walked to the ring to my chosen song, Thanks For Making Me A Fighter by Christina Aguilera.

I felt utterly sick with fear, and excited at the same time.

During the first round, Kirsty came out of the blue corner and got to me before I got to her. Within seconds I was on the canvas staring up at her. I had a fraction of a second on that canvas to decide to get up and fight for my life. 

It was the most terrifying and extraordinary experience of my life but I used the skills I’d learnt over the previous year and pushed myself to my limits – mentally and physically.

I’d learnt to improve my focus, keep my cool, manage my emotions and get straight back into the fight after being knocked down.

We boxed for three two-minute rounds – just six minutes in total. But time has never gone so slowly as it did in that ring – two minutes felt like two hours.

The bell never seemed to ring!

I was exhausted between each round, thinking I couldn’t possibly do another. But I did.

The boxing match ended in a draw.

When it was all over I was on the highest of highs.

My nose was bloody, my face was bruised and my body was broken, but I have never felt more alive and more ecstatic. It was the most extraordinary feeling.

I could hardly believe I’d done it. Despite being terrified, I had faced it all head on and came out the other side.

The whole experience really helped me to manage stress, anxiety and anger. I learnt a new skill and got significantly fitter as a result too.

In those six minutes in the ring I discovered new levels of confidence, determination and resilience that I didn’t even know I had. I dug deep and discovered what I was really capable of.

A year later, I took part in another fight, this time a charity one against Monica Galetti from Masterchef.

This was equally as terrifying and she beat me by one point.

After that I decided to hang up my boxing gloves for good, for vanity reasons – I wanted to save my face from damage! Two fights were enough. I still train nearly every day but it’s hard to find people to spar with because I have a lot of strength and I think people get intimidated.

My fights had helped me to build mental toughness, and so I went on to become a keynote speaker on the subject.

Now, my life focuses around teaching other people how to develop mental strength, and my time in the boxing ring is definitely one of the most important lessons on my journey to realise mine.

Mental toughness can be developed every day, by everyone, no matter what age. It doesn’t matter how big or small the changes you make are, as long as you’re always moving forward to a better place.

It’s normal to slip behind – but bouncing back into the fight is what life is all about!

You can learn more about Penny’s work here

Age is Just a Number

Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

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