Updated: Jun 24
It is easy being a fighter isn’t it? The casual viewer amongst us sit on a Saturday evening, waiting to be royally entertained as we lament the skills and the ability of the ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Binman’ that has been wheeled out for the latest Matchroom or Warren prospect to despatch with relative ease.
But what do we actually know about the sacrifices of both of those competitors who dare to step through the ropes into the gladiatorial arena? The discipline, the heartache, the injuries, and the pain. That ‘Taxi Driver’ or Binman’ is also shooting for the stars, just ask Martin Rogan or Rendall Munroe, who each defied the odds to achieve British, Commonwealth and in Munroe’s case European titles, not to mention World title attempts.
Some who engage and compete in combat sports will forge a career for themselves and will be sponsored, promoted and find success beyond what they could have ever imagined, but the uncompromising reality in this industry means that for many, their professional path is one that can lead to a cul-de-sac of broken promises with a dead end punctuating the termination of their journey.
Add to that the obstacles that deny female combatants the same privileges of their male counterparts and you have an industry that means only the most determined of female personalities can overcome, maybe only those who are born with fighting blood.
That may paint a despairingly bleak landscape for any aspiring female fighters, but 23-year-old Casey Marshall is proof that positivity can prevail. Casey is a young woman who has seized every opportunity that she has been presented with and cherished every experience without any hint of protestation against the process or system.
Starting out her journey at the age of 4, she attended the gym where her father, David ‘Titch’ Marshall taught Muay Thai. At that time, she was effectively taken along rather out of circumstance than expectancy. Recalling childhood memories, she told me, “To be honest, because he was teaching classes anyway, I was going with him when I was two, three, four. I was running around, and you take it all in, don’t you?
“Apparently, from when I could walk, I’d be copying others. At four he tried teaching me some techniques and stuff, but obviously at four-years-old, I’d run around, do some warm-ups, do a couple of techniques, then run off and have a mars bar.”
Despite her recreational perspective as a young child, it wasn’t very long before the ability she showed transferred into competition and due to successes in national tournaments, at the age of 11, Casey was selected to represent Great Britain’s kickboxing team, taking home 2 Gold Medals from the WOMAA (World Martial Arts Games).
This period of success continued over the next three or four years as she added another Gold Medal at the WAKO British championships, 2 Gold, 2 Silver and a Bronze at the WOMAA World Championships and despite major surgery on both legs, at the age of 15, she won the European Championships after only 3 months back training. That was followed by another Gold the following year at the WAKO British Championships.
Those competitions and achievements proved an immeasurable sporting education for a young student to experience and benefit from. Representing her country and being able to return from competition and show school friends and fellow pupils what she had achieved gave her huge confidence and an unmistakable sense of pride. “It was amazing, I remember taking a little bit of time off school to go and compete, my school were super-supportive at the time.
“They asked me to do an assembly and take my medals in, as a kid that’s one of the best things, to be able to show off your medals and achievements.”
What was arguably more staggering than her extrinsic achievements, was her ability to train and coach. Something she started assisting with at a very early age. Whilst only 11-years-old, Casey was helping as a junior kickboxing coach at the Impact Gym in Sleaford.
Impact seems an apt word, as the ‘Impact’ that she had on others meant that she was approached at the age of 17 by her then coach, who informed her of his decision to retire. He wanted to offer Casey and friend (Ben Jackson) who were senior members of the gym, the opportunity to continue the hard work and run the academy. Despite the daunting prospect, Casey was keen to do her bit by ensuring that the reputation and the standing of the club within the community were not relinquished. “That academy was open for years and years and the reputation it held within the kickboxing industry was massive.
“It was definitely daunting taking it on, but for me, as I’d been coaching for a long time, the coaching wasn’t really that daunting, but being so young and trying to keep everything organised was massive for me.”
Running the Academy full-time alongside her A-Levels is a commendable achievement by any stretch, but Casey’s maturity was displayed through her decision to recognise, that if she was to truly make a difference in coaching and training, she had to expand on her own learning first. She conceded that at the point of completing her A-Levels, the academy needed to be sacrificed. “It worked out okay, it was just until that point where I thought, I can’t take this any further until I’ve got more knowledge behind me.”
The young student travelled north to Newcastle and enrolled at Northumbria University. Studying Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, Casey began to understand the correlation between exercise and nutrition and did not waste an opportunity within the interview to sneak in a quote that is evidently a product of her learning, saying “You can train all day, every day, but you can’t out-train your diet.”
Unsurprisingly, given her clear drive and determination, the obligatory learning was supplemented by a desire to do more and in her first week at University, Casey was chosen for the University boxing team and started ABA boxing training. Scouts who were present during her training subsequently invited her to train at the GB set-up in Sheffield. The excitement of moving forward in a new discipline and being trained by elite level coaches was soon dampened though, as three consecutive scheduled bouts were cancelled.
It points to a worrying lack of female depth in the sport. Something that has long been a concern despite slight improvements with the emergence in recent years of talents such as Katie Taylor, Savannah Marshall, and Terri Harper. Current WBC champion Harper considered walking away from the sport of boxing herself before being coerced into persevering by coach Stefy Bull. Unless they are catapulted by the exposure that is brought by Olympic success, it is definitely a difficult path to establish, especially into the professional ranks.
Boxing, for whatever reason, appears to have less of an attraction when compared with the participation of females in say kickboxing. There is still a lack of parity in the sport throughout the industry in so many ways. From officiating and promoting, right through to competing. It is not clear why or how to combat the imbalance, but it almost certainly has a detrimental effect on any young person trying to navigate their way in the sport. Casey explained how this contributed to her decision making at the time and offered a way that some of the major boxing organisations can take inspiration from some community and University led initiatives.
“The issue was, I got set for three bouts in boxing and in every single one, my opponent actually pulled out, which massively put me off boxing, I thought, I’m doing all this training, without really being able to do anything with it.
“I think with boxing, there is such a massive lack of females, kickboxing is much better in that aspect, obviously it’s not the male to female ratio, which still isn’t great and it still needs to be improved, but in kickboxing, there is actually a lot higher level with females and a lot more of them.”
Speaking of the initiatives she feels can be implemented she said, “When I was boxing with Northumbria University, their head coach at the time-Mark Telford-really pushed the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign (a campaign launched by Sport England to promote the sport amongst women).
“If anything, he pushed the female side of boxing more than the male side, he really tried to push it. The issue is, you can push it and it’s great with the community side and in training clubs and it was great fun and a great community feel but when you get to a higher level, male boxers develop more quickly through having more regular bouts and the opportunity isn’t there for elite females. It is harder to get the number of bouts in.
“I think getting those initiatives into the elite sector is important.”
Her experience, along with the need to focus solely on her degree, contributed to the decision to stop competing at the end of her second year of study. But the support and discipline that kickboxing provided her with, saw her return to coaching after martial arts club, Universal Martial Arts in Newcastle offered her a coaching position, whilst also developing her own venture ‘The Body Engineer’. Her business is one that has already accrued an impressive following across social media platforms and knits her sporting prowess with her passion for nutrition, an integration that is rarely utilised, particularly in sports like boxing, where the two areas often host separate roles. She has continued to deliver classes during the lockdown period and will endeavour to continue to grow the business once this unique situation allows it.
You can detect the immense pride and the satisfaction that coaching brings her as she told me, “If I’m cornering someone, I can see their progression, I can see the pride in their face when they win, it’s honestly so much better than actually winning yourself and knowing that you have helped someone else do that.”
Casey Marshall’s career, albeit in its relative infancy, shows that with drive and commitment, you can follow the career path you love, no matter what the obstacle or perception is. Her redoubtable character commands respect, as does her already impressive timeline of achievements. Her leadership qualities make her a worthy sporting ambassador in terms of coordinating the progression of others, particularly, potential young female athletes. It is pleasing and faith restoring to know that there are still young women out there being real role models, ignoring the archaic views of the minority on social platforms who unfortunately still pedal their egregious agenda towards women in sport. How inspiring to document the success of a young person who is wasting no time on impacting lives.
Sport needs these personalities, sport needs more like Casey Marshall.
You can find Casey at @thebodyengineerofficial.