“Making a positive difference is my calling” | Stacey Copeland
Stacey Copeland‘s drive towards making a positive difference is steadfast. She has the kind of infectious motivation that when talking to her about her sporting career in both professional football and boxing, it is difficult to come away without feeling an obligation to help her cause.
Stacey grew up with a love for both boxing and football. But as boxing did not offer a proper pathway, her sporting career started off in women’s professional football. However after suffering a leg break she decided to step away from the game, having played for England, abroad in the USA and Sweden and in an FA Cup final.
“Something changed in me and I just didn’t feel the same about football. I’d done everything I’d wanted to do. I had this deep desire to box.”
Stacey’s grandfather owned a boxing gym in Stockport and her father had been an amateur boxing champion before an injury cut his career short.
She is the Commonwealth champion and a European Silver Medallist as well as having won the same ABA National Championship that her father won. They’re the first father-daughter duo in history to win national titles.
Each victory carries its own special significance. Stacey places the Commonwealth title and as her proudest achievements.
“Having spent all my life being banned from the sport just because I was a women, standing on the podium with a medal around my neck watching my country’s flag being raised was incredibly special.”
Women’s boxing was illegal until 1997. This just highlights that, whilst it isn’t easy for any athlete to make it to the top of their sport, it’s even harder for female athletes. You’re not only fighting for a place at the top, but you are also fighting the misconceptions and stereotypes that go along with being a female athlete. Especially when competing in a male-dominated sport such as boxing.
“It was illegal for us to compete. That went way beyond judgemental and was just blatant inequality.”
“Having spent all my life being banned from the sport just
because I was a women, standing on the podium
with a medal around my neck watching my country’s
flag being raised was incredibly special.”
Growing up, people were used to seeing Stacey in the gym and attending local boxing events.
“I was there three nights a week like all the lads. I sparred with them, did the circuits with them and trained with them. Everyone was used to me being there.”
The same, however, cannot be said for the wider sporting world. When receiving a call up to the England team, Stacey recalls asking her boss for time off so she could represent England at the youth European Championships.
“I was 16, I gave him the letter and he said ‘Are you seriously asking me for time off to play for a women’s football team?’ He made all these jokes and made fun of me.
“Eventually we agreed that I would take it unpaid but I walked out of that office feeling super small, unworthy and ashamed of who I was and what I was doing.”
Now, whilst she can’t change people who have such a small-minded mentality, Stacey made it her mission to make sure that if other young girls come across similar attitudes to their sport they ‘don’t walk out of that situation feeling ashamed and small.’
For many years, Stacey’s nicknames have been Spongebob and Tigger. Not very intimidating for a boxer. So instead, she chose a slogan which she felt represented everything she stood for; ‘Pave The Way’.
Last year, as part of Women’s Sport Week, Stacey set up a project around Pave The Way. She went in to schools, ran local workshops and put on a photography exhibition celebrating women who work in the sports industry.
“It is important for young girls to know that you
don’t have to be an elite athlete to have sport in your life.”
“Women who work in sport are largely invisible and it is important for young girls to know that you don’t have to be an elite athlete to have sport in your life.
“Whether you’re great at I.T, engineering, marketing, media, physiology, science, it doesn’t matter. Anything can be used in sport.
“The more women we get working in sport will hopefully bring about change, as they will be the decision makers and influencers of the future.”
Pave The Way took off, with Stacey dropping down to three days a week in her job, head of pupil development and wellbeing at Parrs Wood High School, to build it up. She has done an impressive 86 talks since last January, including one at European Parliament and one at the United Nations. With her experience as a female athlete, they focus on how sports can be used to improve human rights.
“There have been some great initiatives to challenge racism and homophobia and people are now more aware of what type of comments are offensive. Now it is largely unacceptable.
“Whereas with women I don’t think we have a done as good a job. It is far more acceptable and much more of a social norm to be derogatory to women.”
Campaigns like This Girl Can go some way to changing the narrative on women’s sport. But there needs to be more. Stacey outlines the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign as a good example. She believes a similar campaign would start a conversation around the discrimination of women in sport.
“When I give talks about the perceptions of women in sport, I ask people to question the way things are, to challenge their views and perceptions and then to be a part of positive change.
“Sometimes we can be judgemental without realising it, or we just accept aspects of inequality because it has always been that way.”
“People say ‘Oh god how can you fit it in?’
How can I not do it? I’m standing on the shoulders
of people who’ve made it possible for me to box.
Challenging gender stereotypes is another way to make a change. Stacey outlines the need to ‘move away from attaching gender, masculinity and femininity to specific physical attributes.’
Stacey’s nomination in the Grassroots category of the 2018 Sunday Times Sportswomen Of The Year Awards was recognition for her unwavering determination to change women’s sport for the better.
But she hasn’t stopped there. Stacey also works with children’s charity Reuben’s Retreat, organises walks with the Life After Violent Abuse (LAVA) group and spent a week in Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps teaching sport to children.
“People say ‘Oh god how can you fit it in?’ How can I not do it? I’m standing on the shoulders of people who’ve made it possible for me to box. I’ve got to make more things possible for those who are coming through next.
“Making a positive difference to others is my big mission, my calling, my purpose. That’s what I value most of all, that the things I’m doing impacts others. Whether that’s challenging gender stereotypes, inspiring people, supporting people in terms of mental health.
“If I can relate to it, use my experience and my story to help then I will. I don’t value anything above making a difference.”
Stacey lists her role models as Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs. She ‘didn’t have any female role models in the sports’ she loved. However, her real inspiration comes from the people around her.
“I’m not as influenced by famous people as much as I am by the people around me. I get a lot of energy off other people so, whilst you can admire the things that people have achieved, I wouldn’t say it sparks a fire in me.
“Making a positive difference to others is my
big mission, my calling, my purpose.
That’s what I value most of all.”
Stacey tells me how her grandfather, whilst working full-time as a plumber, ran the gym for three nights a week, as well as taking kids all around the world to box and teaching them to read. Her father had a career-ending injury, yet dealt with it in a positive way. Her mother, as a single parent, raised Stacey and her two sisters.
“They were the real influences in my life because I’ve seen what they’ve been through.”
Stacey hopes her future contains a boxing world title. But another focus is to ‘get women’s boxing to a better place and create more opportunities for those coming through’. In short, ‘using sport to have a positive impact’.
Stacey may have had a lack of female role models, but she will certainly be one to the next generation. Help her in making a positive difference through sport.
Help Stacey make a positive difference and contact her here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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