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Meet Harris: Rising boxing star going global

07 February 2023

By: Emily Wharton - JU:MP Staff

Meet Harris Akbar, a team GB boxer from Bradford. He started boxing when he was just 9 years old when a boxing coach walked into Harris’ dad’s butcher shop, was mesmerised by Harris’ energy and asked him if he’d ever tried boxing…

I was just an excited kid with a lot of energy to burn.

Harris’ boxing journey began from there and together, he and his first boxing coach would work on Harris’ moves in the gym. Harris remembers his first boxing session and what they worked on.

He said: “The coach tried to put me in my first proper boxing stance which is Orthodox. That’s left foot forward, right foot back. It’s hard to grasp at first but when you get the hang of it, you catch on.”

His first session was tough because he was trying to get his body to do all of the punches whilst rotating quickly enough. He said: “It’s very hard but over the years, it just becomes a habit.”

Boxing is a great sport to get your friends involved in as well. Harris trained a lot with his cousins and friends with many of them going into playing lots of other types of sports.

It’s the time to chill with the boys, do something different, have fights in the ring – it’s all good fun.

Harris’ advice to young people wanting to try out sports is to give it a go! He said: “If you like it, keep at it and one day you will gain something really useful out of it.”

Harris has also competed at the European Championships. He said: “That was my second major championship as a senior athlete and it was unbelievable. What an atmosphere! I went there just aiming to box as well as I could and overall,  it was a phenomenal experience.”

And that’s not Harris’ first time competing abroad either…

Going abroad is one of the main reasons I kept it up as a 9 year old. Travelling the world, I saw a lot of things that many people don’t get to see and that’s definitely another perk of boxing as well. 

Last year, boxing saw him help out his teammates in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Despite not competing, being able to support his fellow boxers meant everything to him. He has also travelled to Samoa. (That’s almost 10,000 miles!) He said: “Places like that I’d never travel to by myself but boxing can take you there.”

His biggest teachable moment was after a rough fight whilst competing in the School Boy English Championships. He still managed to get to the finals but says the rough fight was a ‘learning curve.’ His teachers encouraged him to pursue sports by building his confidence and telling him to believe in himself.

My biggest supporters are my mum and dad. My dad texts me about 100 times in the morning before a fight!

The headquarters for Team GB are in Sheffield, which is where he trains 4 times a week, so Harris divides his time between Bradford and Sheffield. In Bradford, he trains at Vanzie’s Boxing Academy and the University of Bradford’s gym.

“In Vanzie’s Boxing Academy, no matter who you are: male, female, black, white, Asian etc, no matter what your background or ethnicity is, you’re welcomed in. You can see all the kids bond really well.”

Sports should be for everyone and it IS for everyone.

When asked what he thought was the biggest barrier to young people, especially girls,  getting involved in sports, Harris mentioned upbringing is a huge factor.

“I’ve always been blessed because the people around me have been good, but a lot of people don’t have that support, so I think that’s the biggest wall. I think it’s harder for girls because of stereotypes. Here at Vanzie’s, girls and women are fully welcomed and there are women’s classes as well.”

Harris’ favourite thing about boxing in general is the self-esteem it gives him.

If you have a rough day, you hit a bag and it makes you feel better. You win a fight, you feel so much better. It pumps a lot of good energy into you more than anything else.

Now let’s talk about LOSING. How does Harris feel when he loses a fight? It’s simple:

“I’m always going to lose a fight. You keep your head up and don’t let it get to your heart because at the end of the day, you go back and work on things that didn’t work, and then hopefully get the win next time.”

And lastly… a message from Harris to all the young aspiring boxers in Bradford who are feeling a bit nervous about starting:

Send me a message! I’ll get you down to the boxing gym, we can go together!

Keep up to date with Harris’ boxing journey on his Instagram and make sure to check out JU:MP’s What’s On to find local activities going on in your area!

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