We are incredibly proud to showcase former England Football player turned Commonwealth boxing champion, Stacey Copeland.
From being asked to leave the football field for being a girl, to finding out it was illegal for women to box, Stacey Copeland is no stranger to the barriers women can face when it comes to succeeding in sport. Despite significant setbacks, she has mastered both sports, going on to play football for England and becoming a Commonwealth boxing champion. Stacey now advocates for equality in sport via her charity, Pave the Way, and is a fundamental role model for those who grew up being told they couldn’t do something due to unjust stereotypes.
Not being confined to a corner
Having grown up with a family background in boxing, (her dad was a boxer and her grandad ran the local boxing gym), it was a shock to Stacey to be told that it was illegal for women to box, as she did “everything the lads did” in training. However, when it came to actual fights, she was up against a bureaucratic brick wall. With steely determination, she moved forward and embarked on a highly successful career in football instead. After early setbacks, (she even cut her hair short to pass as a boy at times), she never floundered and ended up reaching the heady heights of representing England. Stacey went on to play abroad for around five years and, once she took a step back from “the beautiful game”, found that her simmering passion for boxing was re-ignited.
Having kept up with her training throughout her footballing career, and the sport now being legal for women to participate in, Stacey would go on to pursue her childhood dream of boxing. “I didn’t see any reason why girls wouldn’t box because I just loved it… I also was used to the society that I was being raised in, which was a society that certainly didn’t see a place for women in sport, full-stop, [and] certainly sports like football and boxing at that time.” This didn’t stop her, however, and she went from strength to strength, winning two national titles and a European silver medal. Stacey then turned pro and fought in Zimbabwe for the Commonwealth title, which she won, making her the first British woman to do so. “The journey of women’s sport, I think just shows what is possible, even when at the beginning, it isn’t.” Stacey is proof you can achieve anything with a strong passion and unyielding determination.
Paving the way
Centred around Stacey’s recognition of the importance of role models is Pave the Way, which started as a self-funded project in 2017 and is an initiative aiming to inspire and encourage children to achieve their goals. Gaining charity status this year, the project now aims to smash stereotypes and show children that the possibilities for their future are endless. “It’s about challenging the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, because there are barriers for men as well. But it’s also about intersectionality, with race, with class with disability.” She acknowledges that representation is key and that Pave the Way connects children to role models in a variety of industries, which helps to demonstrate that they can achieve their goals.
Moving the goalposts
For Stacey, flexibility is key. Being able to look at a situation and accepting that it can’t be changed, while considering parts that you can do something about, is a mindset she really endorses. “If we can say, right, okay, that I can’t change, [but] what can I do to make this more of an opportunity, rather than just a horrible, miserable setback?” In terms of the pandemic, she thinks this is especially apt, saying, “During COVID, [looking for opportunities in the face of setbacks] is very, very, very important. Because the goalposts are changing all the time, whether it’s in business, sport, or our daily lives.”
Learn more about Stacey’s journey from the football field, to the boxing ring and how she fought her way to become Commonwealth champion on Tictrac.
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