The story of Leeds's own golden girl Nicola Adams

It was a Sliding Doors moment in the life of Nicola Adams and one that has gone down in Leeds sporting folklore.

Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 11:30 am
Nicola Adams during a public workout in Trinity Leeds back in May 2018. PIC: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Nicola was just 12 when her mum, unable to find a babysitter, decided to take her along to an aerobics class at a gym in Burmantofts.

The gym also had a boxing ring and, on that night back in the mid-1990s, the youngster - her interest already piqued by watching great fighters on TV – got a proper introduction to the sport that would eventually make her one of Britain’s most recognisable faces.

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Nicola Adams celebrates Olympic gold in Rio. PIC: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

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She had her first competitive fight soon afterwards, winning on points over three 90-second rounds in a smoke-filled room at East End Park WMC.

But the precocious kid from Ebor Gardens had her sights set on bigger and better things, telling herself that one day she would be an Olympic champion.

More than 15 years would pass before she realised that dream - and times were not always easy.

She had injury struggles, her sport was still in its infancy - the Amateur Boxing Association of England only lifted a 116-year ban on female fighters in 1996 – and money was also tight, with Nicola variously working as a builder and a television soap extra to make ends meet.

Nicola Adams celebrates gold at the London Olympics in 2012. PIC:PA

Slowly but surely, though, her profile began to rise. An English amateur title in 2003, representing Great Britain in 2007, a silver medal at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in 2008.

The game-changing breakthrough finally arrived in 2012, when her quick hands, dazzling footwork and unforgettable smile lit up the London Olympics.

Nicola beat China’s Ren Cancan to take flyweight gold in front of a raucous home crowd on one of that marvellous summer of sport’s very best days.

The 29-year-old was not just a champion, she was a history maker – the first woman to win a boxing gold at the Olympics.

Leeds’s finest was now a bona fide star, appearing on chat shows, signing autographs during walks to the corner shop and accompanying David Cameron on a trade mission to Brazil.

She was also hailed as a role model, topping a list of LGBT influencers put together by a national newspaper.

Postboxes in Leeds city centre were painted gold in her honour and in 2013 came a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive the MBE.

But sport, not the trappings of fame, remained Nicola’s number one priority.

She added Commonwealth, European and World victories to her glittering CV before retaining her Olympic crown in Rio in 2016.

More glory followed after she turned professional, with a win over Mexico’s Isabel Millan earning her a WBO world flyweight title last year.

And, throughout it all, she has stayed true to her roots, becoming a symbol of modern Leeds – ambitious, confident, friendly, successful.

Her idol Muhammad Ali once declared: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

Nicola Adams, it’s fair to say, has done exactly that and a whole lot more.

Thanks for the memories, champ. You’ve been a knockout.