Trading in their belts, gloves and mats for sequins and faux fur, Kiwi Commonwealth Games hopefuls Tayla Ford, Alexis Pritchard and Patti Grogan don’t, at first, look like your typical wrestler, boxer and judoka.
But behind their glamorous ensembles, these three women are among the world’s toughest athletes – who at the same time, prove that you can knock someone out in the ring, as well as rock a knock-out dress.
“Yeah, we’re in sports that are traditionally male-dominated, but we’re still women!” says Alexis (30), who made history in 2012 by being the first Kiwi woman to compete in boxing at the Olympics.
“We’re still feminine! It’s great to be able to show that side of us too. More often than not, we’re in training gear and all gross – especially this close to the Games.”
“People are always like, ‘Wow, really?’ when I tell them I’m a wrestler,” adds Tayla (21), who has also represented New Zealand in rugby sevens.
“They always ask if I could beat them up. I mean, yes, I could, but I wouldn’t! And then there’s the inevitable, ‘We should wrestle sometime.’ No, we can’t wrestle sometime!”
But while they’re tough because of their disciplines, the trio, who are all looking to bring a gold medal home from Glasgow, face different battles every day – the biggest of all being able to continue to represent New Zealand in the sport they love.
“Mental toughness and money. Those are the two hardest things,” says judoka Patti (25). “And the fact you just don’t have a life, but that’s okay,” she laughs.
Both Tayla and Patti balance full-time jobs and up to three training sessions a day to make sure they’re in the best form possible before the Games, while Alexis works three days a week as she was “lucky enough to get some sponsorship”.
“I hope those athletes who are full-time know how super- privileged they are to do that,” says Alexis. “You definitely have to give up money. I’m 30 years old and I have no savings. Literally, there’s not even 50 cents in my savings account.”
However, all three say that despite their struggles, nothing is a sacrifice.
“It’s a choice,” Alexis insists. “We made the choice to chase after our dreams. I’m happy with my choices, so there’s no ‘poor me’. I get to travel the world, meet wonderful people, compete and live a dream that heaps of people can’t do, or don’t have the guts to do. Maybe I’ll buy a house when I’m 50!”
While sport is their passion now, none of the tough trio ever thought they’d be heading to a Commonwealth Games. Patti and Tayla ended up in judo and wresting after their fathers and brothers got involved, while Alexis only started boxing when she was 19, after she gave up hockey because she was “absolutely crap” at it.
Both Patti and Alexis are considered “old” for their disciplines, but rather than see that as a disadvantage, being more experienced than their opponents comes in very handy.
“I have a mental edge,” Patti says. “I had a four-year break away from judo when I was at university, and I was able to get some balance back in my life.”
“Yeah, when I was 22 or 23, when most female boxers peak, there was no way I had the self-confidence or self-belief to perform at this level!” Alexis exclaims.
“And you learn so much about yourself as you go,” adds Tayla. “Being mentally prepared and comfortable with yourself is the most important thing.”
Now, on the eve of the Games, all three are nervous and share the same goal – gold.
“We just want to prove ourselves to everyone,” Tayla says, while Patti and Alexis nod.
“Being selected for a Kiwi team is a massive honour. New Zealand takes so much pride in our athletes, so to be able to bask in that acceptance…
“It’s just a really great feeling. And hopefully we can pay everyone back with some medals!”
Take a look at Commonwealth Games: Weightlifting couple’s romance here.
About Kelly Bertrand
“I started at the Weekly after a two-week internship in 2011, which was part of my journalism studies. Basically, I hung around and annoyed people long enough to land a job as a staff writer, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m lucky enough to get to write stories ranging from the Kardashians through to the Queen, but my real passion is telling the stories of New Zealand’s sporting stars. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s my job to hang out with All Blacks and Silver Ferns! I absolutely love working at the Weekly, and feel really privileged to be part of this 83-year-old Kiwi institution. I’m also fond of Instagram, coffee and animals dressed as humans!”more of this author