Parker packs a punch as she qualifies for Tokyo

This post was first written and published for The Roar

he COVID-19 pandemic means our Olympic athletes will wait until 2021 to chase their Tokyo dreams. But for Caitlin Parker, one more year isn’t too long in the scheme of things.

Parker may only be 23, but she considers herself a veteran in the sport of boxing.

Picking up the gloves at age 11, after she achieved her black belt in tae kwon do, Parker’s first bout was when she was just 13 years old – against a 25-year-old woman.

After just missing the Australian team for Rio, Parker qualified for Tokyo last month in Jordan and is now prepared to wait another year.

“You have to be flexible. The goal is the same. There is nothing I can do, it is out of my control,” says Parker.

“Everyone else is going through the same thing and there are plenty of other people going through things much harder than I am.”

Like many other female athletes, Parker found her way to boxing via a number of other sports. She took up the aforementioned tae kwon do at the encouragement of her father, who wouldn’t let her walk to school on her own until she was a black belt.

Parker also represented Western Australia in rugby sevens and spent her early years making boys cry when she tackled them because she was a lot bigger.

But surprisingly, the first sport she can remember taking part in was dancing.

“When I was about four I started dancing,” she says.

“It wasn’t a particular type of dancing, just spinning around to Alice in Wonderland music and dancing in a circle.

“At that stage I wanted to be a ballerina because I watched all the older girls and was amazed. But my life certainly took a different turn when I started tae kwon do.”

Parker was exposed to professional competition for the first time in tae kwon do but after achieving her black belt she wanted to try something new, so she turned to her local – where she was doing jiu-jitsu – and noticed boxing was another offering.

While she loved it from the beginning, there were challenges. As an 11-year-old, there was a severe lack of competition and Parker was the only girl at her gym. That instilled a sense of determination in her.

“I liked to be able to prove myself in male-dominated sports, especially sparring against the boys,” says Parker.

“In boxing, none of the boys wanted to spar me. So I thought, if you just want to stand there, that’s fine, but I knew they would have to make a move once I got them a few times.”

It took two years before Parker had her first fight. From there she competed at state, then national level (where she knocked out her opponent in just 45 seconds), then was selected in the Australian team when she was 15.

And now, the Olympics are but a year away.

In the time Parker has been competing, there has been an explosion in the opportunities available in women’s sport – with cricket, rugby league, AFL and rugby now on the national stage – and this has had an impact on the sweet science.

“When I first started boxing, there were hardly any girls in the sport. In Western Australia there were some veterans, but they were nearing the end of their careers and I was just beginning so I did feel a bit alone,” says Parker.

“There are lots more women coming through now. The shift has been incredible. Even women doing it for fitness is important.

“I love to see it and I’m seeing a lot more of it.”

Despite this, people are still shocked when they find out Parker is a pugilist, proclaiming she doesn’t look like a boxer.

“What is a boxer supposed to look like?” Parker asks them.

“People expect me to be big. But we have five women on the Australian team and they are all beautiful girls. None of them fit the criteria of what a boxer is supposed to look like.

“And we are all really proud to be involved in the sport and to be breaking down stereotypes.”