Sarah Achieng’, 31, holds the Universal Boxing Organisation female intercontinental lightweight title, the National lightweight title and the East and Central Africa featherweight title.
She shares her story with Rachel Wambui.
“I have always loved sports. When I was in high school, I played football and volleyball, but I never considered I would end up as a professional boxer.
My journey with boxing started in a funny way. I was out on a jog one evening somewhere around Outer Ring Road near where I lived in Kariobangi.
Suddenly, a man came out of nowhere, crossed my path and in that slight instant when I stopped, he turned to me and slapped me. Stunned, I stopped and looked at him. I didn’t even know him.
Perhaps he was mentally unstable, I thought as he walked away, but there were no physical signs to suggest that he was. As that moment passed, my shock turned into anger.
“But on top of that, I felt frustrated and helpless — I quite literally didn’t have the voice to speak up let alone the strength to defend myself.
As I ran back home, I remembered that my cousin had always told me to join him for boxing sessions …
“Had I listened to him, I thought, I would have had the skills to deal with this assault.
I decided to start boxing. When I went to the gym, I had no intention of going pro. I wanted revenge.
I wanted to learn how to box so that should anyone ever mess up with me again, they would live to regret it.
When I met Coach Alfred (Analo), who is still my coach today, I didn’t tell him about my intentions for joining the gym.
If he had known he probably wouldn’t have allowed it because boxing is not about anger and revenge — it is about controlling your emotions.
“So I started training. But I wasn’t very consistent. I was 19. I had just completed high school and I was doing some sales representative jobs to make money.
Some days I would not show up for the training, and coach would come to my house and literally drag me for a session.
He says he recognised talent in me. But I didn’t see it — all I wanted was to learn the basics of beating someone up.
Besides, I wanted to concentrate on the job where I was making money — sales. But he urged me to focus on training.
This was in 2007 and I haven’t looked back since. One thing I would tell aspiring athletes is to not expect to make money immediately. It takes a lot of sacrifice and perseverance.
“I have since participated in a lot of fights. So far, the most exciting one for me was the UBO championship held in Russia (2015).
This was my first international match. I had mixed feelings going into that fight. First of all, my opponent (Marina Popova of Russia) is taller than me.
Second, she was a local favourite and I had this thought that the local fighter might be favoured even if you beat them.
I knew I might not get the title but I swore that I was going to give that fight my best. I won.
“It just so happened that around the time I started training with coach Alfred in 2007, he was in the process of initiating Box Girls Kenya.
How this happened was that Coach had been training boys at the social hall when he noticed girls peeking at them through the windows.
He asked them if they wanted to train, they said yes and the idea for Box Girls was planted. I was among the first group of women who were there when Box Girls was launched to reach young women in Kariobangi, Mathare, Korogocho, Dandora, Huruma and Kibera.
During the 2008 post-election violence, Box Girls turned out to be a safe space for female victims of violence.
“I am currently the Sports Administrator at Box Girls so my typical day involves my personal professional training in the morning and running sporting programmes for the rest of the day.
“Girls in this area go through a lot of challenges — the main one being gender based violence.
One of the ways we work is that we have made arrangements with primary schools. In the afternoons, we send out our coaches to the schools to train them on basic boxing skills.
Like myself, all the current coaches at Box Girls are women who have gone through the BG programme.
When the young girls are training, they learn self-defence but in the course of the session, they also learn some life skills.
For example, let’s say I am teaching you the stance — this is how you place your feet while boxing — I will tell you that how you stand determines your foundation.
In real life, if you are not firmly rooted in your convictions, you will fall or get knocked out. Other life skills predominantly picked up while boxing are focus and of course, confidence. I tell my girls that self-defence doesn't have to be physical — it also means the ability to have a voice and stand up for yourself in case of verbal and emotional abuse and other injustices. Boxing gave my life purpose. Being a mentor to young girls gives me fulfilment.
“Boxing as a career has its challenges. One of them is lack of good fights with good money — you can even train for a year without a match. But even without the money, this is my purpose. The other problem facing female boxers in particular is finding women who want to fight you — once you have a reputation for being a good fighter, even female champs don’t want to fight you because they are afraid of diminishing their reputation. They would rather fight internationally and be beaten than fight with me and lose face at home. Another issue is that, of course, boxing is male dominated. Even in championships, you’ll find two female fights among 15 male ones.
“Boxing has opened up the world to me as I get to travel around the world both for championships and on Box Girls’ business.
But above that, boxing makes me feel safe and powerful. have my eyes set for big things and right now, I am really yearning for a World Boxing Council (WBC) title and I feel that I have been training well.