"I’ve sprayed these with lavender so they’re not sweaty, it’s just spray, I promise,” says Cathy Brown as she dishes out gloves and pads to a bunch of newbie boxers at Reebok Sports Club.
The floral scent is a very small – yet pungent – example of how the self-dubbed boxing “Bitch” has made sure females make their mark on the sport.
In her strong Durham dialect, she admits picking up the sport as a way to release pent-up anger – an emotion that often bubbled over during her childhood.
This was followed by two years of “quite terrifying” rape and abuse at the hands of a former boyfriend at the age of 16.
Boxing, she says, gave her “inner strength” and led to her winning the World Boxing Foundation European Flyweight Title and the BBBC English Bantamweight award.
“I had found somewhere where my passion lay and I followed my dreams,” says Cathy, who was in Canary Wharf for a weekend of boxing masterclasses. But my fight had just begun – and the biggest fight was the sexism in sport.
“No promoter wanted me. I would go to the gym and they would say: ‘You can’t train here, you’re a girl, women shouldn’t be allowed to box’.
“I went through a big struggle to get men to recognise women can fight.
“I’d built strength mentally through sport, so I spoke to the smaller promoters about how I could get onto their shows.”
The result was an agreement Cathy would sell enough tickets to cover the costs of her boxing bouts.
Another stamp of her intent came when she became only the second woman in Britain to secure a full professional boxing licence in 1998.
Life-threatening damage to her neck forced the feisty northerner into retirement. She says this prompted her to switch her mental focus to studying, delving into sports psychology as a way to both understand her internal battles and help others.
“With boxing, I had found something that made me feel so good and so strong internally,” she says.
“I had to get deeper to understand and see how I could help women going through anything I had.
“I started to teach boxing because I wanted to provide a safe place for women to feel good about themselves and their training.
“If I hadn’t had boxing or sport it would have been a longer, tougher journey for me – throughout my life, the abuse, the sexism, change in career, it has always kept me strong and going. As long as you get back up and fight, the fight is never lost.”