Her hero was Muhammad Ali, who once talked of the importance of not counting the days, but making the days count. It’s a maxim that British boxer Nicola Adams, who is quitting due to fears of going blind, very much lived.
In 2012, a monumental year for British sport, Adams became the first woman to win gold in boxing at the Olympic Games in London.
Just four years later, she became the first British boxer to successfully defend their Olympic title for 92 years, when she won gold again in Rio de Janeiro.
The 37-year-old turned professional in 2017 and went on to win all five of her bouts and become WBO flyweight champion.
“My hero is Muhammad Ali and I wanted to emulate what he did,” Adams, who is originally from Leeds in Yorkshire and is known for her intoxicating smile, told CNN Sport.
“I wanted to go to the Olympics, win a gold medal and become a world champion and luckily enough I have been able to do that.”
The upbeat and jovial Adams doesn’t strike you as someone who has beaten people up for a living. She also doesn’t strike you as someone who has had to recently quit fighting because of health concerns.
But earlier this month, Adams decided to stop boxing due to fears she could go blind if she continued.
“In my last fight I suffered an eye injury … I could box another 10 times and nothing happen to it or I could box in my next fight and have a really serious eye injury and maybe go blind,” the double Olympic champion said.
“I didn’t want to take that risk, so basically I had to retire,” she added.
Adams says she’s in a happy place over her retirement and that there’s no chance of her appearing at the Tokyo Olympic Games next year in any competitive capacity.
“At the moment, I’m enjoying spending time with my friends, my family, basically doing things that I haven’t been able to do while I’ve been training.”
“It’s also nice not having a coach shout at me to get up early in morning,” she says, while guffawing loudly.
Women’s boxing has ‘changed massively’
Adams says she hopes she has inspired the next generation of women boxers.
She instantly became a role model for young women following her success in London in 2012.
In 2014-2015, in the years proceeding the Olympics, 166,400 people participated in boxing once per week — compared to 106,8000 for the same period in 2007-2008.
Sport England’s survey also found 35,500 women participated in boxing at least once per week — up from 2012 when the figure was 23,300.
“Boxing has changed massively since I started,” Adams said. “When I first started training, there was no female Olympic medalist for me to look up too. Now we have loads of Olympic medalists, which is really, really good to see.”
Adams came to boxing accidentally, going to a class one night after her mother was unable to find a babysitter for her.
“I don’t want to see women struggle in the same way I did … There weren’t a lot of girls in the boxing gym, that’s all changed now,” she said.
Adams praised the funding changes in the sport, which has a lot to do with the UK’s National Lottery.
“When I first started boxing, we didn’t have any funding, we struggled to get kit, going away to tournaments, even just getting coaches and physicians and doctors on board, we didn’t have any of that and it’s with the National Lottery that got that funding and were able to train full time.
“A lot of the girls were working one, two maybe three different jobs to try and fit in training.”
In the last 25 years, The National Lottery has invested more than £5.7 billion into community sports projects from funding facilities, creating playing fields and increasing sporting opportunities for millions of people, according to their website.
Questioned over the dangers that are associated with the sport and which have ultimately caused her retirement, she stressed that progress was still needed.
“I’d love to see doctors and scientists be able to invent something to pick up brain injuries a lot sooner, I think that definitely has to be a step forward,” Adams said.
Although the curtains may have drawn on Adams’ remarkable career, she leaves a legacy of potentially inspiring a wave of female boxers for future generations.
“I’m definitely proud to have been one of the people to have taken women’s boxing to where it is today.”