Last Updated: 09/07/20 12:15pm
Ruqsana Begum has overcome the major obstacles of a strict religious upbringing and a serious health issue to become a kickboxing world champion.
The 36-year-old was born in Bangladesh but grew up in Bethnal Green, and made her professional boxing debut on what was very much home soil at the York Hall in March.
Prior to that, Begum was a world champion in kickboxing, a feat she achieved despite a strict religious upbringing – which included an arranged marriage – and the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome.
As a teenager, Begum kept her Muay Thai training a secret from her family, and although that situation has now completed changed, the early struggles remain a clear memory.
“There was a constant conflict between my faith, my values and how I’d been brought up,” she told Sky Sports. “But later on I realised that it’s all about your intention rather than what pieces of clothing you’re wearing.
“I haven’t compromised my faith to pursue my sport. That’s a big thing for me. I’m proud to be British and it’s been an amazing journey.”
The arranged marriage, which was initially accepted by Begum, created another obstacle for her to overcome as it developed problems with her mental health and wellbeing.
“I was trying to be a good daughter and I was trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of me,” she said. “And at that time, I didn’t quite know who I was.
July 11, 2020, 2:00pm
“I went ahead with the wedding and within nine months I was having depression, panic attacks, I’d completely lost my identity.”
When the marriage had failed, Begum used the experience as the catalyst to commit fully to her sport. In 2016, she beat Susanna Salmijarvi of Sweden to make history – she became the first British Muslim woman to win a kickboxing world title.
“When I received my parents’ blessing to come back to the gym I knew I had to take advantage of it,” she said. “They wanted their daughter back and I wanted myself back, I wanted to heal myself and the sport gave me a lifeline.”