Lisa Whiteside: ‘Promising dad a gold medal gave me something to focus on’

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Preston boxing star Lisa Whiteside has stormed the sports world despite only beginning boxing a few years ago.

She tells Aasma Day how family is at the core of her life and why she could never have achieved so much without their love and support.

Lisa Whiteside with her proud dad Frank Gibbons

Lisa Whiteside with her proud dad Frank Gibbons

Every time Lisa Whiteside faces a crucial boxing match, she lights a candle and talks to her beloved and departed dad Frank and deceased brother Matthew asking them to give her the strength she needs to achieve her goal.

Moving a stray strand of hair out of eyes loaded with emotion, Lisa, 29, admits she is no stranger to tragedy.

When Lisa was just 11, her close-knit family was grief stricken after her 16-year-old brother Matthew was killed in a car accident.

Lisa, who also has brothers Andy, 41, Stew, 38 and sister Danielle, explains: “Matthew was 16 when he died in a car accident.

“It was a really horrendous time for the whole family and was particularly tough for my mum and dad.

“But we are a strong family and got through it.

“I think about Matthew all the time. I remember him being really funny. He was a real comedian who loved making you laugh.

“As well as being a joker, Matthew was very caring and will always be a part of our family.”

Lisa, who lives in Lostock Hall, near Preston and is married to John, clearly adores her family – those who have gone and those still here.

Her sister Danielle only lives a few doors down and Lisa is incredibly close to her nephews Kian and Dylan.

And she proudly reveals she, her sister and their mum Chris Gibbons are like best friends.

Smiling, Lisa says: “We are inseparable and speak to each other every day.”

However, the last 18 months have been immensely difficult for Lisa and her family as the death of her idolised dad Frank Gibbons has left a gaping hole in all their lives.

Frank, 63, was diagnosed with bowel cancer just before Lisa headed to the World Championships in China and a distraught Lisa was adamant she wouldn’t go.

However, her dad insisted she went and Lisa decided to do him proud.

She says: “My dad was my best friend and my number one fan and was so proud of my boxing.

“When I found out he had cancer, I said I wasn’t going to go to the Worlds but my dad told me I had to and said I shouldn’t give up on anything.

“I thought to myself, if Dad was fighting his battle, I would fight mine.

“I went to the World Championships in China in 2012 and won the bronze medal for 57kg.”

Lisa, who now competes at the Olympic weight of 51kg and is a full time athlete with the GB Boxing programme, went away for a celebratory week away to Egypt with her mum and dad in May 2013 after she was selected for GB.

Smiling wistfully, Lisa remembers: “Our first night in Egypt was my mum and dad’s 43rd wedding anniversary so we jointly celebrated that and me getting into the GB team.

“Only days later on May 16, my dad passed away – on the same day as my brother Matthew’s birthday.”

Lisa says her dad loved her boxing and travelled all over to watch her compete. It was only in the last year of his life that he struggled, but even then, he made sure he got to her tournaments in England.

Lisa recalls: “My dad passed away in the same week as my first week at GB as a full time athlete.

“He had been to see the specialist and we knew something was wrong. However, he was adamant I still went to Sheffield for my first week with GB.

“But on the Tuesday, my mum and sisters told me to come home. My dad passed away on the Thursday with all the family there.

“On the day he died, he asked me why I’d come home when the European Championships were coming up.

“I told him I was going to go and get him a gold medal at the Europeans.

“That got a smile out of him which I’ll never forget.

“After his death was a terrible time for all of us, especially my mum who had lost her life partner.

“My mum is an absolute saint and looked after my dad so well. They had made a pact that he would be at home when the time came.

“That promise I made him about winning a gold gave me something to focus on.

“I carried on with my training and then went to the European Championships in Hungary and won my dad a gold just like I promised.”

Lisa, whose most recent boxing success was last November when she won a silver medal in the World Championships at the Olympic weight of 51kg, says before each contest at the Worlds, she lit a candle and talked to her dad and brother.

She explains: “I would ask dad and Matthew to be there for me and to push me on.

“When I am in the boxing ring, I always say Dad is on one shoulder and Matthew is on the other. They are there to keep me going and push me on when I need it.

“They are my inspiration.

“My dad in particular is a huge inspiration in everything I do as he went through so much, but never gave up.

“It has made me realise I can’t give up on anything as it is nothing compared to what my dad went through.

“Dad was really brave throughout his illness and always had a smile on his face and a joke for you.”

Lisa admits one of the hardest things after her dad’s death was not being able to talk to him before a fight.

Lisa confesses: “I always get really nervous when I am competing and the first person I would always ring would be my dad because he was such a calming influence.

“It was very difficult at first not having him to call anymore.

“My mum is now my number one fan and it is now her I ring her when I’m suffering from nerves.”

Children are clearly an important part of Lisa’s life and her voice is filled with affection when she talks about the six nieces and nephews on her side of the family and three nephews on John’s side.

And she reveals her mum and dad did long term fostering for 10 years until her dad passed away.

Lisa worked as a police officer before her boxing career took off and is currently on a five year career break. She lives in Sheffield Monday to Thursday training three or four times a day with the GB programme.

Lisa, who has been married to John for four years, says: “When I was doing shifts with the police, there were times when me and John would hardly see each other.

“But now we have quality time from Thursday to Monday together.

“I couldn’t do what I do without the backing of my husband, my mum, my family and understanding friends who don’t get to see me very often.

“You have to sacrifice quite a lot, especially when a competition is coming up.

“I am at Sheffield Monday to Thursday and then I come home and train on a Friday at my home club in Larches with my coach Dave Fitzgerald.

“I have to be very careful with what I eat as the maximum you can be above your boxing weight is five per cent.

“When I have a tournament to prepare for, I am very focussed with my eating.

“When I am on my rest days, I can have treats, as long as I don’t get stupid.

“I love chocolate and crisps, but I usually satisfy my craving with something like a small packet of chocolate buttons.

“I just have things in moderation.”

When asked about whether she and John would like children of their own, Lisa admits this is something they talk about all the time.

Coming from such a close and loving family herself, Lisa loves the thought of having children, but at the moment, starting a family is on the back burner as she pursues her dream of getting to the Olympics.

Lisa says: “Hopefully, in the future, me and John can look at starting a family.

“But it is another one of the sacrifices we have made for now.

“I just imagine how great it would be if I could tell my children what I had achieved in my life if I manage to get to the Olympics.

“The Olympics is my ultimate goal.”

Lisa says she definitely could not have achieved all she has without her family.

She explains: “My husband and family are very supportive and are always there for me. When I’m having a tough day, it can be hard, but they are my rock.

“Boxing is my life and my family’s life and they make sacrifices such as getting up at 5am and travelling to different countries.”

Laughing, Lisa adds: “I can never tell anyone anything about my boxing because my mum has already told them as she is so proud of me!

“The last 18 months have been really horrible for all of us without my dad.

“But my boxing has given the whole family something to focus on.

“We have turned a tragedy into something positive and are a really close family.”