Kellie Harrington refers to boxing as her medication.
Harrington started boxing at the age of 14 in north inner-city Dublin because there were “boxing clubs nearly on every corner”. As a teenage girl she wanted “to do something different “and since then she has never looked back.
Today, the 30-year-old has her sights set on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. A stellar boxing career has seen her reach the summit, winning gold at the 2018 World Championships and claim silver two years prior. Harrington’s amateur career has seen her claim countless of accolades including nine elite Irish titles.
Harrington is among 25 Irish athletes who will act as ambassadors for the FBD ‘Dare to Believe’ programme, which aims to bring the Olympics into the classroom and inspire the next generation.
“When I was growing up I wasn’t a big fan of school, I just couldn’t get my head in the books and I think I think The Dare to Believe Programme is a really great opportunity for all kids” she said.
The Olympic hopeful believes sport has the ability to teach people many life lessons, such as discipline and respect, as well as providing a positive escape from the realities of everyday life.
“Doing anything with physical activity, whether its boxing, football, camogie; it’s better than hanging around on the streets. I would encourage all kids, and I would think that all parents should encourage their kids, if they’re looking to get into sport, and it doesn’t matter what sport it is as long as they’re not hanging around on the streets” she explained.
When the former World Champion first started the sport, she began by aspiring to be like Katie Taylor. Since then, she has pivoted to other boxers to draw inspiration from those who exemplify her approach and style more fittingly.
“When I first started boxing, Katie would have been a great role model for me back then. She would have been someone who I admired growing up and stuff but as you get older like you realise that, just because you’re a female doesn’t mean you can only have female like role models” she explains.
As she has progressed in her career the boxer has become more influenced by other Irish boxers such as Eric Donovan and Michael Conlan, whom she identifies with more stylistically and tactically.
The Dublin native expressed although “It’s great that we have so many female role models” she tries to “encourage kids to have whatever role model they chose; it doesn’t have to be a man or a woman. Just because we are female does not mean we are limited to other female role models”.
In the face of equality between genders Harrington calls on trainers to understand that they are different and be open with their athletes.
“They need to remember that females are females and that we are different to our male counterparts. We do have different hormones and we do get periods once a month. Try to be open with that and with your athletes. Try, and if you’ve a good relationship with them, they will feel comfortable in telling you that they have their period like you know and I think that’s a massive, massive thing for athletes is to be comfortable in talking about”.
Harrington accredits 2016 as the year female boxers were given equal opportunity to the men in Ireland in terms of preparation and support. Harrington pinpoints Bernard Dunne as a catalyst in the movement for parity since he was appointed The Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s performance director.
“He started looking after his female team the same way as what he looked after his male team. And there is no them and us, it’s we. It’s a team you know like we’re all together and its very very equal there with men and women.”
While she is appreciative of this sentiment, the 30-year-old makes the point that equality is what should be the norm.
“There are people always looking for the angle of ‘oh its terrible like women don’t get treated the same’ and this that and the other but I can’t say that in my sport because we do. That’s the truth you know!”
“Back, in 2015 and a little bit before that we didn’t, but now, as it stands, we do like so… I’m privileged and I’m proud to be that. But as well as that I am, I class myself as a bit of a leader in the team and if I did think that we weren’t getting something that we should be getting I would be the first to speak up for it”.
Working towards her ambition of qualifying for the Olympics, Harrington stresses that dedication and candidness are a necessity in strides towards greatness – no matter how you may be perceived.
“People might think sometimes that you’re a little bit hard, hard faced you know, but in my training I give it everything, so I expect everyone to be honest with me in what they do and to give everything as well.”
“You know you’re in or you’re out with me and that’s it, so I expect honesty and commitment and I don’t expect anything less” she says.
After qualifying, Harrington would have two other noteworthy goals. While all eyes would move to the podium if this tenacious Irish boxer make it to Tokyo 2021, as a leader in the amateur boxing setup in Ireland another valuable intention in her book is to “inspire one or two of those kids out of all the programmes that [she has] done then that’s a job and it’s a job well done”.
Catch the FULL interview on podcast discussing all things in depth and even touching on a potential move to professional boxing in the future – ‘Going Professional Could Well Be Something That Happens After The Olympics’