Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Daniella Smith

World champion professional boxer Daniella Smith began her career in 1998 aged 26. This week she's in the ring with Lauren Eagle in the Fight for Life challenge. She is 40, of Ngapuhi and Ngati Kahungunu descent. She has two children and lives in Auckland.

1. Is the glamour-celebrity ra-ra angle of a challenge distracting for a serious athlete?

It is what it is. I know what's going to happen when I get into the ring. Every time you fight it's the hardest experience of your life. Nothing is ever easy. Therefore, all that aside, you are focused on the controllable factors. I don't get my head caught up in all that.

2. You talk about boxing being the hardest experience of your life. Why do you keep going back? Don't you reach the point when you want to say, screw this?

It's hard and yet it's rewarding and I love it. I've retired - it's a bit of a joke in boxing circles. I think I've retired about six times now and at the time I really do mean it. I'm not young any more. My body feels it. I get tired. But a month will go by and I'll think, "Gosh, I miss it. I miss it". I love being pushed to the brink and being physically and psychologically challenged. I love doing things that people say I can't do. Because I will prove you wrong.

3. How does it challenge you psychologically and emotionally?

With boxing it's still having that belief in yourself when it gets tough. Being able to see things through. Getting up early in the morning to train and having to do your weight-loss runs at stupid hours. I have to work as well, I'm a mother, I train my own fighters. So it's busy. Fortunately I'm selfish and when I fight I'm the number one priority. Dieting also takes a toll on your emotions. I have to get to 60kg for this fight.

4. What has been your toughest fight outside the ring?

I've never talked about this before. My brother. Dying. He died a couple of months before my world title. He committed suicide in May 2010 and I fought in November for my world title. Dealing with all that, it was tough for the whole family. My dad came with me to Germany and I was in the ring and warming up and he goes, "Do it for Allon". I said, "Yep. Sweet." When you're in the ring it's about using those incidents in your life to push you even more.

Our family needed something positive after that. That was something I felt very strongly about. Just wanting my parents to be happy and proud again. He was a year younger than me. He was my baby brother. He was 36.

5. Would it have helped if people had been allowed to be more open in talking about suicide?

I don't know. After it happened I didn't speak about it once. It was very fresh for our family and I didn't want to upset anybody. I did a few interviews and couldn't speak about it. I thought it was best for me to be quiet. But I'm okay with it now. I've dealt with it. But you're never okay with it are you? I do know that when you hear about other people speaking about their pain, you say, well if you can do it, I can too. It's tough for a family to deal with, all on its own. I have very supportive friends and the boxing community is amazing.

6. What's your whakapapa?

I'm German-Maori-Scottish and English. I was born in Manchester. I was conceived in Israel. Mum and Dad spent a lot of times on the kibbutz. I grew up in Kaikohe and both my parents were school teachers.

7. Do you feel well represented as a female boxer by the media? Are your achievements given the same weight as your male counterparts?

It's hugely different but I'm okay with it. I never boxed to be a superstar. I got into it to achieve my own goals. To satisfy my own needs. I didn't do it to become a superstar in the media. So it doesn't faze me.

8. How do you do slothful?

Sleeping and eating all day. I can do that. I love sleeping. On a Sunday, if I can, I'll sleep all day. And eat crap food. Crap food for me is like crap food for the world. Greasy food.

9. You're not cowed by much are you?

I've experienced a lot in my life. But I have fears, believe me. But if something makes you a bit nervous, you've got to face it. I'm also an older woman - I'm not a young girl anymore. So there's not much time left. I want to achieve a lot of things and I'm my own boss. I'm a solo mum. When my daughter started school I did my degree. I'd just started boxing and had to take my daughter with me everywhere. Then I'd study at night till 12 and get up for training at six and it was off to school again. I'm not clever. I think I'm just a hard worker. I've never thought of myself as a solo mum though. I have huge support networks. I don't have any beef with anyone. I'm not saying I never did, but I'm self-sufficient.

10. What characteristic have you had to overcome - what's your greatest weakness?

Having confidence in all areas of my life. I'm strong in the sporting sense, but I mean confidence about walking into environments where you're not an expert. Confidence to be a woman in a male-dominated environment and be respected, to speak up and stand up for yourself. I used to walk into my daughter's school and they put you in boxes - I'm Maori, a solo mum - and you get treated in such a way. You feel that vibe. You know it exists. My daughter would laugh because I'd turn up to report days and I'd give them my business card. I'd be very direct and I'd think "Don't judge me". After I won my world title they all knew who I was.

11. How has boxing or sporting literature blown your mind?

Sugar Ray Robinson. He just really blew my mind. He grew up in a ghetto. I went through a stage when I read a lot of books about boxers. I wanted to get inside their heads ... I always write my fight out on paper. It's important to know it here, in your head, and here, in your gut. I write what I need to do. I can't control what's outside.

12. What advice would you give to that little girl, back then, growing up in Kaikohe?

It's funny. Your parents tell you stuff when you're little and you just don't believe them. What advice? Earn lots of money. Ignore boys. They're all trouble. You do not need boyfriends to make yourself feel good about yourself. Feeling good comes from within and achieving for yourself. It doesn't come from anyone else.

- NZ Herald

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