In this article, Morson Group COO, Adrian Adair, interviews boxing superstar Natasha Jonas for his regular feature in BROOD Magazine.
Meeting at legendary boxing trainer, Joe Gallagher's gym in Bolton they discuss her career to date, the challenges of returning to the ring after having her daughter, the importance of being a mum and prioritising your dreams, women's sport, and her sister's epic Euro's win with the Lionesses. Read on...
Natasha Jonas is one of British boxing’s trailblazers. Supported by Tyson Fury, Claressa Shields, Ellie Scotney, and Chantelle Cameron, Tash has become a star in the boxing world. With an outstanding amateur career, she was the first-ever female British boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games and has since become known as "Miss GB". Spurred on by a disappointing Olympic loss to Katie Taylor, in 2017 she turned professional under the tutelage of Joe Gallagher. Tash has held the WBO female junior-middleweight title since February 2020, graduating from Miss GB to Queen GB.
A key corporate sponsor since 2017, Morson has championed Tash in the sporting arena from the time she turned pro. However, for this article, I was keen to explore her life outside of the ring; as a mother negotiating a professional dream and bringing up a young daughter.
I met Tash at Joe Gallaghers Gym (professional coach of the Smith brothers: Stephen, Paul, Liam and Callum along with Matthew Macklin, John Murray, Anthony Crolla, Scotty Cardle, Scott Quigg, Hosea Burton, and Callum Johnson) in Bolton for an honest, enlightening and inspiring interview about her experiences of returning to a professional career after having a baby.
Tell us a little about how you got into boxing and your career to date...
“My entry into boxing was a good accident. 18 years ago I was on a scholarship in America playing football and I got injured. Devastatingly it was the end of my football career. When I came home, I put on a lot of weight and felt like I had no direction. I realised that within a year of not doing anything, that sport was my motivation and drive to be positive and do good things. So I looked for another sporting avenue to put my efforts into.” "I was only at the gym as a fitness thing, although I've been involved in some contact sport – kick-boxing and karate – since I was young. But when Sylvia asked me, I went along, and it just steamrollered from there. Before I knew it, I was eight bouts, eight knockouts, and I quickly got chosen for the England team."
What do you see as your greatest achievement?
“I think there are two special nights that stand out and one of them being the Olympic qualification. I've always loved sport and I remember watching the 1988 Olympic Games on television when I was four and saying to my mum, "I'm going to be there someday". Of course, I was only four so my mum was like 'yeah whatever' and I said, 'no, I'm going to be there.' So, fast forward 24 years, I've just qualified for the Olympics but I didn't know this story. I'd done the interviews about what a moment this was for me, feeling emotional but I hadn't cried. I'd landed back in the UK, headed through the airport and saw my mum at arrivals, she was crying, bawling her eyes out, and I was like, mum what's up?!' She said, 'I remember you as a little girl telling me, "I'm going to be there" and it's taken you all this time... 105 different sports but you've got here in the end and you worked hard, tried your best, didn't give up and you've got your reward." So that moment for me and my mum was truly special. The second moment was the fight with Namus on the Amir Khan vs Kell Brook undercard. Boxing in Liverpool was brilliant and boxing at home is where I want to be, but that was a big, big card. It was probably my last chance at a world title shot. So, the pressure was on, the opponent was good and I had to go out and perform before the highly anticipated Amir Khan vs Kell Brook fight. When it worked out for me I was made up for myself, my family, and my little girl. But I was also so happy for Joe [Gallagher] as well because he goes through absolutely everything that I go through.”
You’ve said in interviews before that you thought falling pregnant meant the end of your boxing career. Can you tell us about this time in your life?
I was an amateur then. In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I snapped a ligament in my toe and that injury meant that I'd missed the qualifiers for Rio and I didn't have any intentions of staying amateur until 2020 for Tokyo. So when I said goodbye to the amateurs, I was effectively saying goodbye to boxing because there wasn't a pro scene for us here in the UK. I decided within that time to have a baby because, in my opinion, you do have to stop one for the other. It's not like some lads where you just have a week off to be with your baby and then you go off back to work or training. As a woman, a mother who's just given birth, your body changes, you feel the societal pressure to be there for your child and more than that, you do want to be there for your baby every step of the way. I went away and had my little girl but switching that focus from boxing to her prompted a mix of emotions. I was so glad that I had her. Boxing is such a big void to fill when you're finished and I think many people struggle with that. The sport takes up so much of your life and when it's not there it's so incredibly hard to find something positive to put your energy into. But I was okay because I had my baby to put my all into but it's a completely different kind of challenge. You're trying to be that perfect mum for this new human that you're now responsible for. You're trying to take on all the advice and do everything that you're told correctly and be perfect. This consumed all my energy. But gradually she got into her own little routine, became more self-sufficient and was evolving into her own person. So, there was again this void. Then the opportunity came about to go pro with Joe Gallagher. The first two people I called were my mum and my cousin. This was because they see all the dark sides of boxing that people don't see; like the time when I cried for two days after the Olympics when I got beaten by Katie Taylor. They go through all the camps with me and they assured me to not ever worry about my baby as she will always be looked after. They said that as long as I can do it, they were always behind me, supporting me. That was all I needed to hear, I contacted Joe and the rest was history.”
How difficult was it juggling being a mother and boxing to begin with?
To be honest, my job might be different, but my experience of being a working mother isn't. There are stereotypes of what a boxer is, but I'm lucky that all my mates have got kids around the same age. When I would say "I'm struggling a bit" with this or that, I had a support network and my family to be able to go back to. I'd like to think that this was no different really from any other working mum. It was just that the routine of my job was a bit different. I’d get her ready for school, I’d take her to school, I’d come to Bolton or I’d go to Liverpool to train if I needed, I’d do my two sessions and then I'd go home and pick her up from after school. It was good during the lockdown, especially during the Terri Harper camp because she was able to come with me and get involved. She's always known that mum's a boxer and mum goes to the gym but she never actually knew what happened in the gym. And when she came along she was like, ‘Oh this is what happens!" She was counting all the lad’s reps and she was Joe’s number two! She loved giving me water in-between rounds of sparring. It was brilliant that she had that experience and when she is at home now, she knows what mum does at the gym. She's so lucky in the sense that, it’s not only myself that she has to look up to, but she's got a Nikita in women's football. She has no interest in doing anything that I enjoy, but when it’s Nikita, she’s her hero and she’s like ‘I want to be like Auntie Kita!’”
What would you do if your daughter wanted to go into boxing?
“For everything that boxing has done for me. I could never grumble or complain. It's not just about the skill of being able to box, I am determined, I'm hungry, I'm motivated by myself in the ring or as part of a team in the gym. I'm committed. I'd like to say I'm on time, but Joe might say different! If you ask that employer what you want your employee to be like, they'd say all these things. They’re life skills that can propel you to be in sport or business. I've got a job at Sky now doing commentary and I'm on a Parliamentary group for boxing, the APPG Boxing Group. That would never have been possible, I was just a snotty nose kid from Toxteth. I didn’t think I’d be discussing acts with Parliament and the pathways for young female and male boxers. It’s opened those doors, so why wouldn’t I let my daughter do it? There are lots of skills there that boxing encourages.”
Do you think she’d be more likely to follow in Nikita’s footsteps?
“I'll just be happy if she does a sport that I like to watch! She's into dancing, gymnastics and karate so far. But, every Jonas I think since the eighties has done karate! I just encourage her to be active. I think it's important. I think it's positive for the mind, body and soul. “
The family will have been celebrating your sister, Nikita’s Euros win with England, what’s that been like?
Yeah, she’s my little girl’s hero, every time she’s on TV she’s like ‘That’s my auntie!’ It’s great and visibility has always been key to any sport. We always knew how good female boxing was. We just needed a platform to have it on. And we got that. And I think football's got that at the minute. The whole sport and women's sport is right on the crest of a wave and while we've got them eyes on us positively, we need to keep hold of that and go with it. Whether that's a bit of tokenism, whether that's whatever we've got it. So use it positively and inspire a generation, which was what the Olympics was about. And I know in boxing we've seen like a 50, 60% increase of the girls ready to box and football will be the same. It's got to be from the grassroots up and young girls are going to be thinking ‘I want to be like ‘Nikita Paris’.
Any final advice for other working mums…
Yes, when you become a mum, do not give up on your dreams. A mum is what you are, not who you are. You're still entitled to follow your dreams as well as be a mum. You don't have to stop one for another. I’m a bit more spiritual than I used to be, and someone said once: name three things that you love. So, I said, the baby, my mum, my dad. They said name three more. So, I said, brother, sister, nan. I kept going with others as they kept asking, the dog, work… I got to about number 20 and she said, “you haven’t said ‘you’ once.” It’s made me realise it’s OK to put you first. If you’re not loving yourself and happy, how are you supposed to be that for another person? It’s important to consider, “who are you?” and not lose your identity and become, ‘just a mother’. I’m determined, I’m loving, I’m family oriented. I’m more than that.
Natasha Jonas will return to her home city of Liverpool for a world title unification fight against Patricia Berghult on September 3, live on Sky Sports.
Natasha Jonas has made a significant impact on women's boxing in this country and has achieved huge things for her sport, her city, and her country. However, it is the way she was able to return to work and turn pro after having her child, that I found incredibly interesting and particularly relevant to some of the conversations I have every day.
Throughout our discussion, Tash affirmed that there doesn't have to be a binary between being a parent and having a career. But, curating a family life where parents, particularly mothers, feel able to pursue an ambition outside of parenthood can, for some, feel unachievable. I hear from many colleagues and my wider network that returning to the workplace, whether that's post-maternity leave or after a longer career break, can feel daunting bringing conflicting feelings of guilt, fear and insecurity.
Tash cited her close support network many times throughout our interview as playing a vital role in her ability to return to the ring after having her daughter, Mela. It's often said it takes a village to raise a family and I can personally advocate for the power of having a trusted support network. Traditional connections in the form of family, friends and neighbours or more unconventional groups such as colleagues, teachers, gym buddies and community members can all provide a key anchor for working parents. Research indicates that when parents have a sense of connection with people who care about them, it provides a sense of security and confidence. As well as enabling practical benefits such as time and space having these kinds of connections allows them to share the joy and relieve the guilt, and uncertainties that come with the parenting role.
Indeed, as well as her drive and talent, it is the people around her who enable Tash to be high-performing sportsperson and high-performing mum. For many parents, nothing will assuage natural feelings of uncertainty, but with a trusted network and an open, empathetic employer you can create the bandwidth needed to pursue your personal and professional dreams.
If you would like to chat further about finding balance, your career pathway or how to make returning to work a rewarding and positive experience for employees in your organisation drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org