But despite the obstacles, thanks to her never-give-up attitude and passion for sports, Cindy fell in love with boxing upon being discovered at the local youth club. Three national titles and an international gold medal later, she’s poised to compete in the European Games this week, with qualification to Paris 2024 in sight.
When I was born, I came out first, which I don’t think happens often. I say this because ever since that day, my mother has called me stubborn and I think it just stuck with me. Whenever I’m faced with something difficult or something people tell me I can’t do, I do whatever it takes to prove I can.
I spent my childhood in Cameroon, where I lived with my mother and brother Kennett. She was a happy girl, full of life and with a lot of energy. I loved hanging out with the boys and my mom wanted me to stay home like the other girls, but I was a bit of a guy and didn’t want to help clean up. In the end he kissed her, he just wanted us to be happy.
Paris 2024 Olympic Games
Alejandro Blanco and his optimism for Paris: “We can surpass Barcelona’s 22 medals 92”
06/14/2023 at 10:04 am
We left Cameroon when I was 11 and Kennett was 12. We took the first plane and arrived in the UK. My dad was already in Bolton with nine of my half-siblings, so we lived with them. There she learned English, went to school and university, and started boxing. My whole life has been in the UK at Bolton, and although I wasn’t born there, I love it. It’s quiet, cheap and there are a lot of friendly people around.
At first life scared me, especially because of the language barrier. Kennett and I didn’t speak a word of English so before we could go to school we spent two years in a language school and my dad wouldn’t let us speak French at home, he was very strict about it! But being with Kennett fixed everything. He has always been my best friend and the one who knows me best. I call him King Kong because he is king to me!
I started school in the eighth grade, but my English was not very good and I was bullied. She was a sad girl trying to take each day as it came, but it was hard. Especially since I was without my mom and my brother was trying to deal with his new situation. I was wondering why God was doing this to me. Why are all these people bothering me for the way I speak?
Without my mom, I wouldn’t know things like deodorant, so I smelled bad in class and the kids made fun of me. I had two physical education teachers, Mrs. Park and Mrs. Scofield, who were like my mom’s personalities and bought me a sprayer. Partly thanks to them, physical education was my favorite subject. I’ve always been an athlete, but they motivated me to do well. I became a sports captain and played all the sports I could: netball, round ball, cricket and soccer.
When I was 15, my brother gave me a brochure for a local youth club and I started going there to play girls’ soccer after school. After one day of training, a group of sweaty guys came out of the room, I went to take a look, opened the door and found a boxing gym… It was full of guys punching bags, all I heard was “bangs!” And sweaty… loved it! I started to smile. I asked one of the instructors when the sessions would start, got home that night, and came back the next day ready to start the class.
This time, they all looked at me when I walked in because they had never seen a girl in their class before. Even the coaches were surprised. I’ve never jumped rope, but for the first half hour they wanted us to jump for three minutes, followed by ten push-ups, ten sit-ups, and ten sit-ups. Then repeat over and over. I was dying. This warm-up was hell.
After the thirty minutes had passed, one of the trainers, Dave, told everyone to put on their boxing gloves. But not me. He told me to keep jumping. So I ended up jumping for 90 minutes and then had to go. I came back the next day and he made me jump again. I guess he thought he would never come back. You have to keep in mind that I weighed 110kg then, I was a big girl when I started. But I lost a lot of weight. I’d come back every day for a year, get down to 200 pounds, and then tell me it was time to put on the gloves.
We started with sack strikes and then moved on to footwork. When I got down to 86 kg, we worked a lot on the technique and then I started training with the boys. Getting into the ring was very different from hitting the sack. I remember the first time they hit me, I went to the bathroom and started crying. But I was determined, so I went home, came back the next day, and we did it again.
I felt a little lonely when I first entered the youth club, but the guys quickly made it feel like my second home, so I never thought I’d be the only girl there. But to progress, we knew he needed to fight girls. There were not many female boxers, so sometimes I had to travel for about two hours.
After a few regional matches with England Boxing, I held my first National Championship in 2019 and won Light Heavyweight (81kg). I was invited to do a 2 week assessment with GB Boxing and I passed, however to be part of the GB program you need a UK passport which I didn’t have. It meant I couldn’t compete internationally and it affected me a lot, I was depressed. But I continued to fight in England and in 2022 I won two more championships in a few months: 75kg and then 70kg.
It was Amanda Coulson (National Boxing Manager for England) who helped educate me about the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. I had the opportunity to compete abroad so that I could fulfill my dream of qualifying for the Olympics. Team Refugees works with GB Boxing so I train with GB boxers and coaches at the Sheffield base. They make me feel like family and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who made this possible.
Two years ago, I was granted refugee status. In my country it is illegal to be gay so if I had been sent back I could have been a prisoner.
I was about to be deported in 2019, when I was placed in detention. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When we first moved to the UK, Kennett and I used to visit the Immigration Office in Manchester once a week to sign papers. But as soon as we went to sign, they separated us and I was left alone in a room with a woman and two policemen. The woman didn’t say anything for a long time, but then looked up and said, “Cindy Ngamba, I’m going to arrest you.” They handcuffed me and I stood there screaming, “Where’s my brother?” They put me in the back of the van and drove me to London. But at the time I didn’t know where I was going or even that it was a concentration camp. When we arrived, it looked like a prison and was full of women and their children. They gave me a room with a TV, and the next morning they let me call my brother. He reassured me and told me not to worry. A few hours later, a woman told me I could leave. I think it was my uncle who gave them enough information to show that we could stay here. They gave me a train ticket and I joined my brother in Manchester. I think about that moment and thank God every day because there are people behind me who weren’t lucky enough to achieve the same outcome as me. People who have built their lives here, but are forced to leave. God decided I wasn’t supposed to be one of them and I’m so thankful.
At first I was embarrassed to be called a refugee because I felt so helpless. But you live and you learn, and now I have a different mindset about it. After all, you are still human. You should never look at someone because they are a refugee or an immigrant, you should look at them for what they are.
I am grateful to be protected and able to remain in the UK. It’s sad and shocking to think that a country can judge someone for their sexuality and say ‘no’. This is not only happening in Cameroon, but in many other countries where people’s lives are in danger just because they are homosexuals.
In the UK people never ask me about my sexuality, they ask me about Cindy. Cindy the Boxer. But I’m very open and have no problem talking about it. I was a little afraid to tell my family, but they weren’t shocked at all. As an African woman, my mother wasn’t very nice at first, but she got used to it. For all of you who find it hard to open up, I would tell them to start with the family, because they are the ones who stand by you, even if it costs them a bit. But I understand that it varies from person to person.
My mom, aunt and some of my siblings now live in Paris, which makes the Olympic dream even more special. To go on stage with my gold medal is my ultimate goal, and that’s what I train for every day. My mom has only seen videos of my fights, so it would be nice if she came to see me. I call her every night and we imagine that moment together, and she gets excited like a girl. It gives me energy and makes me smile just thinking about it.
Happiness is a choice and it’s free, so why not be happy? When I’m down and I’m not smiling, I think about the hard times I’ve been through. Now I’m sitting here, but at the same time someone is suffering. I am in a position where I can breathe and walk while I am alive. I don’t need anything else in life. I achieve what I want. Why can’t I be happy? That and that my family is doing well makes me happy.
With boxing, I think I’m able to move on a bit because I’ve overcome everything I’ve done so far: my trip to the UK, being away from my mother, the bullying, learning to box, my role, and my sexuality. . So when I’m in the ring and they say 30 seconds left, I know I can get through it. This is my mentality. This is Cindy’s mentality.
Paris 2024 Olympic Games
The Olympic Planet Podcast | Paris 2024, the last Games of the sports career?
06/07/2023 at 09:39
Paris 2024 Olympic Games
COE ranks between 316 and 341 athletes for Paris 2024
05/31/2023 at 11:11
“Pop culture advocate. Troublemaker. Friendly student. Proud problem solver.”