Leeds’ adopted boxing star Ebanie Bridges on the pressures of staying fighting fit mentally and physically
The ‘Blonde Bomber’ speaks out after her victory in Leeds on Josh Warrington’s undercard
Boxing is not a sport in which to show weakness. It takes power, grit and determination. A true test of mettle that commands strength from both the body and mind.
The battle to the top is often hard won and not without its struggles, as boxing star Ebanie Bridges knows only too well.
The 35-year-old Leeds United superfan, who fought her way to victory on Josh Warrington’s undercard at Headingley Stadium earlier this month, has suffered her fair share of setbacks during her sporting career, but has managed to fight back even in the face of injury.
Speaking in support of the YEP’s #SpeakYourMind campaign, Bridges explained: “This is the hardest thing in sport.
“I think most elite athletes, especially in combat sports, are always carrying some kind of niggle, but I’ve been faced with a lot of big injuries that hold me back, especially in training.
“It is very, very disheartening. In a lot of my camps, I have had to train with just one arm so I can make it to fight night.
“It’s disheartening because I think to myself, imagine what I could do if my body held out and I could actually train with all four limbs working for once!
“But it is what it is and after a lot of years and heartbreak, I continue to push through because in the end, I love this sport.”
The adopted Leeds woman secured a narrow victory against Frenchwoman Mailys Gangloff during the Headingley bout, extending her professional boxing record to seven wins and one defeat.
It was a win that was not easy to secure after suffering an injury to her right hand in the second round, but Bridges, best known as the ‘Blonde Bomber’, said she doesn’t give in lightly and has worked hard to overcome the physical and mental pressures of the sport.
She said: “There are plenty of times where I’ve thought, ‘why do I keep torturing myself and putting my body through this pain?’ Then I fight and it’s like, that’s why.
“I deal with pressure a lot better than when I first started out and to be honest, the biggest pressure I get is from myself.
“I practice a lot of visualisation, self affirmation, breathing and meditation. I am naturally very aggressive, hyperactive and anxious to fight, so for me, I always need to work on staying calm and relaxed so I can be fully focused with a clear head in my fight.”
While boxers are known for being tough and fearsome, Bridges said being open about mental struggles in the sport is a lot less taboo than it used to be, adding that she no longer feels pressure to stay strong all the time.
She explained: “You see big name fighters like Tyson Fury, Ryan Garcia and plenty of others who are quite open about mental health struggles.
“I don’t personally feel pressure to stay strong all the time, but I like to think that I am. This has nothing to do with being judged, I just don’t generally like to share my personal life with the world.
“But the best advice I can give people struggling with their mental health is to focus on the things you can control.
“Practice gratitude and trust that everything happens for a reason. I generally live a fulfilled life and when bad things happen, the way I get through it is by that advice.”
‘A memory I will cherish forever’
Bridges, from New South Wales, Australia, reflected on her Leeds fight as an unforgettable experience that she will cherish forever, saying she was blown away by the support from fans.
“It was so amazingly special,” she said. “Leeds as a whole, the football club, the city, the people, have a special place in my heart.
“To walk out at Headingley with such a huge reception of fans, ‘my people’, was unbelievable. It is definitely my adopted city and I feel such a special connection with Leeds.
“The locals and fans have taken me in as one of their own. Everywhere I went I was welcomed with open arms and love, which was so surreal.
“It felt like home, which considering I’ve been away from my loved ones for six months was the kind of warmth I was craving. I cannot wait to come back.”
Mental preparation is key
Being mentally prepared in sport is just as important as the physical training, with many elite athletes, like Bridges, now using visualisation to help cope with the pressures.
Professional coach Amana Walker, who specialises in coaching sports stars to train their mind, says having a strong mental outlook is crucial for hitting peak performance.
Walker explained: “Your mind is the engine room to your performance - it drives everything.
“An athlete can be in peak physical fitness and one of the best out there, but when faced with growing pressures to perform under a spotlight, sometimes in the face of negative comments or abuse, they will struggle.
“The growing impact of social media means getting the right balance of mental and physical health isn’t just important, it's crucial.
“Too little time and attention has been placed on wellbeing in the past and that must change now.”
Walker advises athletes to mentally go through their training and visualise themselves at their best, while reflecting on past successes will help to build, and maintain, confidence.
She added: “Whatever healthy food you put inside your body will help you to feel good and perform at a high level, but the same is also true for your mind.
“Our psyche drives, or destroys, our performance and unfortunately our inner critic can get the better of us and pull us down when it matters most.
“Neglecting your mental health, and mental strength, will hold you back. It can make the difference between winning or losing.
“Remember that being the best you can be starts on the inside.”