Lancaster technician’s blow-by-blow tale of a midlife love affair with boxing

Marion Dunn courtesy of Steve Finch © Steve Finch
Marion Dunn

A Lancaster University laboratory technician has published her first book after taking up boxing on a whim aged fifty.

Marion Dunn has worked in the Lancaster Environment Centre for the last five years, combining her work with training after becoming hooked on boxing.

The Boxing Diaries, published January 23 this year, is Marion’s myth-busting tale of four years of slogging in a typical amateur boxing gym in northern England.

Her story is one of a developing love affair with the ‘sweet science’. It’s also about obsession, hard work, companionship and occasional bravery.

But The Boxing Diaries is not just a story of hard graft. It’s a revealing account of life in the amateur boxing gym: its idiosyncratic inhabitants, non-judgmental spirit, dedicated coaches and respect for all comers, irrespective of age or gender – provided their commitment to training is total.

From the sweat and toil in draughty halls, Marion takes us through the years of preparation before she is finally ready to spar in the ring. Every micro-improvement, every emotion is laid bare, and along the way she considers the influences and events that might have ignited her passion for the sport in the first place.

Marion said: “In my youth, my main interests were outdoor pursuits including potholing and rock-climbing. I still love the outdoors, especially the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, where I now live.

“If someone had said ten years ago that I would write a book about boxing, let alone attempt the sport, I would have laughed. But somehow, I have been bitten by the boxing bug. It shows how life turns on a sixpence and perhaps, ultimately, my book is an attempt to explain (to myself!) how this has happened, and hopefully to enthuse others too. 

“Some kind of inevitable decrepitude comes to us all with age (trust me, I know!), but I think that aging in a negative sense really comes from losing passions in interests, whatever those are. 

“With all the pressures of modern life, it is extremely difficult to make time (and have the resources) to fulfil the simplest things in life which we absolutely know make us happy as human beings, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, socializing and helping others, getting outdoors and pursuing interests. These have served us well over the last few million years, so why should we abandon them now?

“Perhaps it is a cliché, but if asked, my advice would be to escape from the pressures of modern life as much as you can. Make time for doing the things that you love. Don’t make excuses or ask for permission – just get on with it! “

What made you first step into a boxing gym?

After a long period of combined study and work, I noticed that I had lost all my former fitness. At fifty, I knew it was make or break time fitness-wise. There was a gym advertised locally as part of a youth club, where gym sessions were run both for young people and for adults. I turned up expecting a fancy weights room, with posh coffee and deep carpets. Instead, I found a traditional old-school boxing gym, where I was made to feel very welcome. I joined the adult sessions and gave boxing a go. Surprisingly, it felt like quite a natural activity. I was prepared to work hard in the gym and found unexpectedly that I loved boxing. I never looked back.

How has it changed you?

It hasn’t changed me, but it has just made every aspect of life slightly better! Even though I am by no means a great boxer, I think the discipline and hard work learned in the boxing gym has spilled over very positively into other areas of my life, and I feel genuinely rejuvenated by it.

What surprised you the most about that environment?

Boxing sometimes has a macho image, but I have found that the people who stick at it are not like that at all. I have found it very inclusive, and I have been welcomed into every single boxing gym that I have attended. The only qualification you need for entering a boxing gym is being prepared to work hard – and by the way, boxers are incredibly nice people. Great role models!

Why did you write a book?

Such was my enthusiasm that I began to write a boxing training diary, initially as an aid in trying to remember some of the technical boxing skills I had been taught. Somehow this morphed into a book, describing the triumphs and despairs of trying to learn boxing as a middle-aged woman, and all the micro-dramas that are the norm in any northern boxing gym. The roots of my singular, obsessive interests are also explored in my book by means of an anecdotal trawl through recent family history!  I am very grateful that my book, The Boxing Diaries, was picked up by my publisher, Sara Hunt of Saraband, based at Media City in Manchester.

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