“Growing up in Zambia as a girl is very challenging, especially in a rough area like Mtendere. If you are weak, you won’t make it. You need to be sharp, physically and mentally. ”
These are the words of Esther Phiri, now a world-renowned boxer and holder of five world title belts. Esther’s journey to the top was not without its trials, yet this audacious and gutsy young woman met each one with determination and discipline.
Growing up in a household where there was very little money, Esther did what she could to help her family survive; she dropped out of school and started selling food in the streets.
“Here in Africa, life is difficult if you don’t go to school. So many youths are forced to drop out -- for many reasons -- but then just sit idol. Worse still, many end up wasting themselves by drinking or prostituting their bodies.”
At least for Esther, she found refuge in sport.
When Esther first started training at the gym at Africa Directions, it was simply to lose weight. Little did she know, at the age of 21, that her athletic ability was so great. Ester and her friend/early trainer, Masoe, would wake up at 04:30 everyday to go for “road runs” and then to lift weights at the gym at AD. Masoe started training her in boxercise, awakening her interest in the sport she would come to love.
Esther was not welcomed into the traditionally male- dominated arena. The guys at the gym often insulted her saying she was just there to, “bitch around” and would never go far. Yet, Esther, with the encouragement of her friend and an unbeatable spirit, kept on pushing herself. In 2004, she was introduced to her coach, Greetings, who would soon take her from an amateur to a professional. She began fighting in tournaments trying to earn what she could to support herself and her baby. The resolve and tenacity of Esther is seen as she recollects one particular fight in Zimbabwe in which she got into the ring despite being hospitalized days before.
“I was so dizzy I couldn’t even see my opponent, I was simply dodging the shadows.”
Though it may sound reckless, Esther says, “I had to do it, I was fighting for the cash to change my life.”
Eventually, Esther got her big break. In 2007, she traveled to Kenya for a regular tournament, but when her opponent didn’t show, they matched her with an American who was also a super-featherweight. Knocking her out, Esther unknowingly won the Women’s International Boxing Federation World Title and put herself into the limelight. Esther returned to Zambia a national hero and has gone on to win more recognition and titles around the world. Even with all the publicity, Esther is humble and modest; she continues her training regimen and just hopes that she will give some inspiration to other girls in her circumstances.