Demie-Jade Resztan flies the flag for New Astley on a rapid rise to the top
We catch up with a Cambridge-based boxer who is making rapid progress at home and abroad.
‘She’s a natural, she’s our superstar.”
As we sit at the Racing Centre in Newmarket prior to training, the passing comment by a member of staff sums up the regard in which Demie-Jade Resztan is held.
In a town full of sporting stars, the 21-year-old has become something of a celebrity; though at first sight it is difficult to guess in what field.
Once you go into the gym and the headgear and gloves go on though, the nimble and agile nature come out and it is clear to see why Resztan is a three-time national boxing champion.
In a brief session at New Astley Boxing Club, Resztan’s quick hands have her male sparring partner doing all in his power to avoid taking any blows as 10 other youngsters train around them.
“She is a role model for these kids,” says New Astley head coach Mark O’Reilly.
“They look up to her because that’s what they aspire to be.
“This is a very successful club, we’ve had lots of national champions here, but Demie was the first senior national champion we ever had and now she has obviously won it three times.
“It’s definitely great for the club, but as for me, I’m just doing my job; I want her to reach her dreams.”
O’Reilly is true to his word as well as Cambridge-based Resztan has exceeded expectations to date in her fledgling career.
Boxing at 48kg, she represented Great Britain twice last season, won a bronze medal at the European Boxing Confederation (EUBC) Under-22s Championship and fought at the EUBC Women’s European Championships in Bulgaria, being unlucky not to get to the semi-finals. That is on top of her three senior national titles.
“We’ve actually gone a lot further a lot quicker than I expected but she is improving all the time,” added O’Reilly.
Resztan has been boxing since she was seven, picking up a pair of gloves for the first time for a couple of reasons.
“I got into boxing because I was bullied through school and it helped me learn how to defend myself,” she said. “It relieved stress levels and I just really enjoyed it. It was something I could stick at and work hard at.
“It was about letting all my anger out I suppose – instead of attacking other people, I would attack the bag.
“My mum used to babysit my cousins, and all three of them were boys. She took them along [to boxing] and then instead of me sitting around she would say ‘Go on Demie, join in’ and so I joined in.
“But after that I just stuck at it and made it my thing.”
When Resztan first started, women’s boxing had still not been accepted into the Olympics – which happened in 2009 – and was long before Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams captured the imagination in the sport’s first involvement at the London Games in 2012.
It had been practiced for a long time and although girls’ participation is increasing, it is still relatively small in the broader sense.
Resztan, who had trained at DC Boxing Academy in Cambridge and Trumpington ABC previously, says that in all the gyms she has been to, she has been the only girl; but that did not put her off.
“I spar with boys and men because that’s all there is and I can’t not spar, so I would rather spar hard; and you learn more as well,” she says.
“When I was younger I was girly in a dressing sense, but I would say I was more a tomboy when it came to sport and I used to just have loads of boys as friends so I would just get involved.
“When it came to boxing, I didn’t really think anything of it; I didn’t think ‘oh, this is a boys’ sport’.
“A lot more girls are getting into it, and it’s a good thing; girls should be doing it – I think it’s awesome.”
A fitness instructor at Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa, Resztan is also starting out as a personal trainer, and one of her aims is to encourage more girls into the sport by starting an all-girls’ boxing class.
“If they know what I’ve done, then hopefully it will give them the courage to come along,” she said.
“Some girls don’t like training with men and just find it a bit intimidating, so maybe if I do a little beginners’ boxing class it will work.”
It is that male/female disparity that at least at the moment could prevent Resztan achieving her dream.
Her weight, 48kg, is the lightest, and while the category is at the Europeans, the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, it is not currently fought at the Olympics.
The structure with Great Britain amateur boxing means that only Olympic weights are funded, and so Resztan is not part of the official programme, although she is regularly invited to training at the squad base in Sheffield.
“We’re a little bit upset about her not getting on to GB yet, I think she deserves to be there,” says O’Reilly.
“I have spoken at length to some of the head coaches up there about it, and it’s literally to do with weight categories; it’s got nothing to do with anything else.
“They assessed her at 51kg, and she is never going to be 51kg; 51kg is in the Olympics and 48kg is not. Eventually, I think 48kg will probably get into the Olympics and that’s when we will move on – sooner rather than later I hope.”
Resztan’s eyes light up when she talks of the Commonwealth Games being in Birmingham in 2022, but there are more immediate targets in sight.
The World Women’s Boxing Championships are being held in India in November, and although it has not been confirmed whether GB will take a 48kg female boxer yet, Resztan will be the No 1 if they do.
Heading off to the world championships would be another string to her bow, and another great example to her younger clubmates at New Astley of the rewards of commitment and hard work.
It will also demonstrate the power of confidence and self-belief, something that Resztan did not always have and was unlocked by O’Reilly, who she describes as being like a father figure.
“In sparring and training I would do amazing, and then when it came to fighting I would bottle it all up and just melt really; I would let my nerves take over, froze and didn’t really do much,” she says.
“When I started performing and believed in myself, it obviously showed as I started winning things and I haven’t stopped. It’s nice to know that if I do believe in myself I can get somewhere and go places.
“It came from a good coach telling me always to believe in myself as if I didn’t then what’s the point, which is true.”
And in O’Reilly’s words: “She is doing phenomenally well.”
Skilfil Resztan the listener – O’Reilly
Mark O’Reilly believes that Demie-Jade Resztan has all the qualities for success.
The New Astley head coach has helped the 21-year-old to make an impact on the boxing scene, and he feels that is in no small part down to her characteristics.
“She’s very tough. She’s also very skilful,” said O’Reilly.
“She’s got bundles and bundles of talent that just needed nurturing and pushed in the right direction really.
“She is very dedicated. She won’t back down and she doesn’t give up. She listens.
“If you listen to your coaches then you’re halfway there really, especially if you’ve got a bit of talent as well because that’s one of the most important things in any sport, especially in this sport which is full contact.”