Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Boxing's first female Olympic gold medalist: 'I thought I couldn't continue'

By Nicola Adams, Special to CNN
September 28, 2012 -- Updated 1239 GMT (2039 HKT)
  • British boxer Nicola Adams is the first ever Olmypic gold medalist in women's boxing
  • She fell in love with the sport as a child after watching her dad's video collection of boxing greats
  • However, her career nearly came to an end after a serious back injury outside the ring
  • She explains how she recovered just in time to make the selection for the British Olympic team this year

Editor's note: Nicola Adams, 29, is the first ever Olympic gold medalist in women's boxing. In front of a home crowd at the London 2012 Olympics, she fought her way past a year-long injury to knock down Chinese boxer Ren Cancan in the final. Here she reveals how she fell in love with the sport and her heartache when she almost couldn't carry on.

Sheffield, England (CNN) -- Everyone thinks I'm a woman in a man's world, but to me I'm just a boxer doing the sport I love.

It's been with me since I was a child. My dad had videos of all the great fighters -- Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali. I watched them winning their Olympic medals and world titles and saw those big crowds and thought to myself, "that looks exciting."

Then one night when I was 12 years old, my mum couldn't get a babysitter for me and my brother, so she took us down to the gym with her. They had an after-school boxing class, so I joined in and absolutely loved it.

Everybody I met down there became like a little family to me. They'd take me to boxing exhibitions and shows, introduce me to new people and we'd all just stick together.

This was so important for my development because it meant I always wanted to be there, I always felt supported and knew that there were people who believed in me.

How Nicola Adams punched her way to gold

You have to remember that being a great boxer is only 50% physical; the rest is mental. You have to be really confident, calm, relaxed and focused. You've got to get in there thinking "I can win. I can achieve this."

More from Human to Hero: Prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova

My first competitive bout was really fun. I remember peering behind the curtain, peeping out and seeing all my friends and family in the crowd waiting for it to begin.

There weren't many female boxers around at that time, it was very rare, so I just wanted to get in there and perform and show off my skills. That's when I remember thinking, "yeah, I love this sport!"

But it wasn't easy to get to where I am now. All the training from such a young age has been tough. A standard day involves a run in the morning, followed by strength and conditioning exercises -- where I do weights, press ups, pull ups -- and then a boxing session which includes bags, pads, and sparring.

Life can get in your way no matter how dedicated you are, no matter how hard you train
Nicola Adams, boxer

There are times you have to run through the rain and it's cold and it's minus whatever degrees outside, but you just have to get up and you go and do the work.

And on top of that everything you eat is monitored. You can't just go out and have a McDonald's or a pizza when you want, you have to be so strict on yourself.

There's no way of finding the motivation for doing it unless you absolutely love the sport. You've got to really love it like nothing else otherwise you won't get through the training.

That's why I don't see it as a sacrifice. I see it as things I want to do, I choose to do. I choose to not go out clubbing and drinking with my friends because I want to be a great boxer.

But life can get in your way no matter how dedicated you are, no matter how hard you train.

Having hardly sustained any injuries in the ring -- just one broken thumb -- I seriously put my back out in 2009 when I tripped over a bandage hanging out of my bag.

I got up and didn't feel in too much pain. In fact, I even went to a tournament and it wasn't until a few weeks later that the pain got worse and worse.

They took me to the doctors and found a crack in one of my vertebrae -- I was out of boxing for a year. I had to have complete bed rest for three to four months.

It was so difficult because I'm a get-up-and-go person. I like to run around, see what's going on. To be laid in bed, brace put on to keep my spine in line, it was really hard to pick myself up again.

More from Human to Hero: Molecular gastronomy chef Heston Blumenthal

The 10 seconds before I was told that I'd won, I already knew it
Nicola Adams, boxer

There were moments when I thought I couldn't continue, but my friends and family helped me through the hard times, and I just managed to make it back in time for the last assessment camp and make the team. It was almost like it was meant to be.

Then came the Olympic final against Cancan. I just remember thinking, whatever she does I'm going to do 10 times better; she throws a punch I'll throw five back. She bought out the very best in me in that match.

The 10 seconds before I was told that I'd won, I already knew it. I could feel it, I was just thinking I can't believe that I've done this; I can't believe I'm going to be Olympic champion in front of my home audience.

Winning the medal meant everything; all the hard work, all the ups and downs, highs and lows, everything in my life has revolved around boxing. So for me, winning the gold medal was everything I dreamed about as a kid.

By putting women's boxing in the Olympics, they showed that women can and should be allowed to do any sport they choose. It's all about equality, it's time for a change.

Part of complete coverage on
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
Hurtling down a mountain side at 50 mph on a bike isn't everyone's cup of tea. But for Rachel Atherton it's a zen-like experience.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Rachel Atherton is a world champion in downhill mountain biking, one of the most extreme of all the cycling disciplines.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
In the twinkle of an eye, Israel Folau has accomplished what most athletes would be happy to achieve in an entire career in not one, but three sports.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Helgi Sveinsson was a promising handball player until bone cancer forced his left leg to be removed. Undaunted, he picked up a javelin.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
Nguyen Van Chieu has fostered the growth of the Vietnamese marital art since the 1960s, helping the sport go from strength to strength.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1809 GMT (0209 HKT)
Carissa Moore is a double world champion and she's still only 22 years old. Her exploits on the ocean are making waves both in and outside surfing.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Playing pro ping pong is a bit like running the 100m while playing chess, says Ai Fukuhara.
November 5, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
Guor Mading Maker's story makes most sporting tales of triumph over adversity look like a walk in the park.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
The comparison might irk Michael Jackson purists, but it's easy to see why Kilian Martin's fans liken his fancy footwork to the late "King of Pop."
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Olympic hero Kosuke Kitajima is hoping to inspire a new generation of Japanese swimming stars ahead of his home 2020 Toyko Games.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0935 GMT (1735 HKT)
Much may have changed in post-Communist Romania, but its production line of gymnasts continues to generate champions.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Taking time out to eat a homemade chocolate cake is hardly the conventional way to win a mountain race, but don't tell Emelie Forsberg.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
He grew up in a surfing party town on the U.S. "space coast" and has conquered waves in the world's most exotic locales.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Christian Taylor knows all about putting his best foot forward -- but the Olympic triple-jump champion has had to rewire his muscle memory.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in her native Bali.