THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SKYSPORTS.COM
A remarkable journey of horror and hope, Ramla Ali is the Somali war refugee who – until last year – hid her entire boxing career from her family. Breaking down barriers as a young, Muslim woman, Ali is eager to instil that spirit into the next generation of young girls.
Ali has had a tougher start to life than most. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, her birth date is unknown by either her or her family, although they attest it to sometime in the early 1990s due to the start of the Somali Civil War.
When she was barely two-years-old, her family were devastated when a stray grenade was thrown into their garden, instantly killing Ali's eldest brother who had been playing outside. Leaving behind everything, the Ali family fled Somalia and underwent a treacherous boat journey to Kenya to escape the ordeal.
"This is as horrific as it goes. We were all playing outside, and a grenade landed in our front garden which killed my eldest brother. [Due to the war] all the hospitals had been burnt down, blown up and destroyed and we didn't have a car. My Dad put him [my brother] in a wheelbarrow and wheel-barrowed him to the nearest hospital; but obviously you don't get far in a wheelbarrow if someone's in it. By the time we got to the hospital he was dead."
"For my Mum, everything before then she just chooses not to remember and anything after then was just too horrific for her to repeat, so when we left it wasn't the best circumstance."
Arriving in England as war refugees, the Ali family settled in East London where Ali stumbled across boxing by chance. As an overweight child lacking in confidence, Ali's Mum gifted her a membership to a local leisure centre, where she began taking classes in Boxercise.
Ali starring in a recent Nike promotion
Boxercise inspired her to join a boxing gym. Having to scour the internet in secret, Ali managed to find a local gym and she still remembers picking up a pair of gloves for the first time.
"I happened to find a boxing gym that was quite close to where we lived so I went there. No one helped me, no one showed me how to box, no one said this is how you correct your punch, this is how you turn into the shots, no one really taught me how to box because I was a girl and back then female boxing wasn't really a thing.
"When you go into a boxing gym for the first time, and you grab a pair of the used gloves, that smell, that smell was what was lingering throughout. You've got like worn out bags and you've got like dirty floors and obviously after a while you get used to it but the first time I walked in it was just like 'WOAH!'"
Ali found solace in boxing, the only problem was she couldn't share her joy with her closest confidant; her Mum. Growing up in a traditional Muslim household, Ali was terrified of her Mum's reaction to her daughter being involved in such a masculine sport, and the shame this could bring to the family.
"For me boxing was my friend. It was the person who never let me down, it was the person I could turn too when I was upset and when I was crying."
"I think the reason why I believed my Mum wouldn't be ok with me choosing sport as a career, was because she doesn't - and it's probably the same for most people who come from the same religion as me - see it as a stable career choice. And because we've come from such a hard background, for Somalis, a career choice that's more stable would be better than something that's unstable and that's what my Mum used to always tell me."