Everything looked like it was falling into place for Preston boxing star Lisa Whiteside earlier this year.
With a 2014 World Championship silver medal hanging around her neck – easily her biggest accomplishment to date – the 29-year-old looked set for a career-defining moment in 2015.
A scheduled world class blockbuster fight against fellow Team GB flyweight and London Olympic Games champion Nicola Adams was arranged for the end of April at the National ABA Championships in Liverpool.
The bout captured the imagination of the public across the country as it pitted Adams – the golden girl of women’s boxing – against her younger and arguably hungrier rival.
Whoever won was likely to move into pole position for selection for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as Team GB are only allowed to take one fighter per weight category to Brazil.
But a freak chain of events ultimately led to the eagerly anticipated fight not going ahead and also looks like leaving Whiteside’s dreams of competing at the 2016 Olympics in tatters.
On the eve of the bout, Adams pulled out of the contest after being the victim of a burglary where a number of her personal possessions were stolen.
It gave Whiteside – who trains at Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club – a free run to the National title as she swept aside her less experienced opponent Kim Shannon in the final.
But in a further – barely believable twist – in the days after her victory over Shannon, Whiteside suffered a horror head injury in a freak accident outside of the ring.
In an event she can barely comprehend herself, Whiteside lost her balance and toppled over, fracturing her skull.
The blow left her hospitalised for a number of days and there was a worry initially that the injury could end her career. Happily after months of recuperation, Whiteside appears to have made a full recovery and has recently been given the go-ahead by medics to return to the ring and begin sparring again.
“It happened right after the ABAs,” Whiteside said. “I went for a meal with my husband and a friend.
“I was just waiting for them when I leant on a perimeter wall, but lost my balance and fell back.
“I can’t tell you that much about it because there are nine hours of my life that I have lost.
“Obviously, it has been a very worrying time for myself and my friends and family.
“But I am good now and I got the all-clear last week to begin sparring again.
“It’s been four months since I’ve been able to spar.”
Whiteside is taking inspiration from fellow North West boxing star Anthony Crolla, who has recently returned to the ring after suffering a similar injury.
The Manchester fighter sustained a fractured skull when he was hit over the head with a concrete slab after chasing two robbers.
But he has appeared to have suffered no long-lasting damage and fought for a world title last month against Darleys Pérez – a bout which ended in a controversial draw.
“After it happened, a few weeks later I was able to train, said Whiteside.
“I have been on the bike, so I’ve not lost any of my fitness really.
“And over the last three or four weeks, I have been body sparring on the bags and the pads and I’ve been running.
“I’ve still been able to do everything apart from the full sparring, but now I’ve been given the green light to do that.
“The problem was my balance.
“I fractured my skull and it tore into my ear canal, so my balance was horrendous – like scarily bad.
“I was waking up every morning and I was all over the place.
“The doctors were concerned that I would not box again this year at all.
“But I went to see a specialist and she performed the epley manoeuvre on me.
“They say when the crystals are dislodged from your brain after a trauma, your balance is affected.
“But she did this little manoeuvre and it seems to have sorted me.
“Last week was my first week back fully sparring at the Sheffield Institute of Sport.
“All of the England team have been there.
“The girl who I beat in the ABAs – Kim Shannon – she was there so I sparred her.
“Everybody was saying to me, ‘You have been out for four months?’
“But I just loved it. I was like, ‘Get me back in that ring!’”
Despite the nature of the injury and the obvious brutality associated with boxing, the Larches and Savick star has been assured she is safe to return to the sport and is highly unlikely to suffer any kind of relapse.
“I had no damage to my brain,” Whiteside revealed.
“It was just the fracture and the Team GB doctor said that would take at least six weeks – it’s been 14 weeks now.
“And they say that a fracture always heals stronger. It’s more my balance which is the issue, but that seems to be okay.
“It will never probably get back to 100% – the specialist said to me that it will probably only get back up to 90%, but at that level it’s not something you will notice.
“If Anthony Crolla can do it, then so can I.
“He has come back from a similar injury and fought for a world title.”
Although thankfully back to rude health, the consequences of Whiteside’s injury means Adams has now stolen a march on her in terms of the race for Olympic selection.
With the Preston ace out injured, Adams showed her class at the European Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, in June. She beat Poland’s Sandra Drabik on a majority points decision to win gold.
There is every likelihood that Adams will get the nod for the Olympic Games as long as she can qualify via next year’s World Championships.
“You have to qualify first for the Olympics,” Whiteside said.
“The first qualifier is the Worlds in January and obviously only one of us can go at the Olympic weight.
“Nicola is probably going to get the nod for that – unless of course something drastically changes.
“She’s got to get in the top four to qualify and if she does that she will go to the Olympics and I won’t be able to – it will be done and dusted.
“But if she doesn’t qualify then there is another qualifier with the Europeans and you would hope I might get the opportunity then.
“I’ll just have to wait and see. It might be that neither of us qualify.
“But all the competitions are starting for us now.
“I haven’t really missed anything, apart from this year’s European Championships, which I was gutted about.
“There is a GB tournament at the end of November and I’m hoping I will get to box Nicola.
“After she pulled out of the ABAs, I was promised that we would have a box-off at the end of the year, so I’ve just got to push for that and see what happens.”
The Preston ace is philosophical about being robbed of the opportunity of facing Adams at the ABAs.
But she hopes one day it will happen, especially as there is a growing clamour for it to take place.
“I just want this box-off,” Whiteside said. “I hope it can happen.
“The publicity surrounding our scheduled fight in April was incredible.
“I think a lot of people would like to see the fight.”
The most frustrating part for Whiteside was that she had trained so hard in the lead-up to the fight and was feeling in tip-top shape.
Even male Olympic heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua commented on how focused she looked.
“Everybody said to me, ‘You were on it for that fight’.
“Anthony Joshua came up to see me afterwards and said to me, ‘Lisa you were on it...I could see it in your eyes’.
“I was fitter than I have ever been.
“I did my fastest ever three-mile run and I had sparred with so many different people.”
Whiteside is under no illusions that fighting Adams would be a huge task, but she is just keen to be given the opportunity.
“Don’t get me wrong, fighting Nicola would be my hardest ever fight,” she said.
“She is a very technically gifted fighter, but power and fitness is my strength.
“But I have improved loads technically and I would have prepared myself in how to box her.
“I had every game plan ready for the fight at the ABAs – I had A, B, C and D.”
There is every likelihood that 32-year-old Adams, who hails from Leeds, will retire from the amateur sport after next year’s Olympics.
Whiteside is taking a long-term view and even if she does miss out on competing at next year’s Games, there is every chance other possibilities might open up for her in the future.
“I am looking at it long term now,” she said.
“With GB, I’m on the top-level funding because of the silver medal I won at the worlds last year.
“Lots of people would like to do this as their livelihood.
“You have got to think that the next Commonwealth Games is on the Gold Coast in Australia
“Even the head of GB Boxing Rob McCracken said to me that I need to take the longevity view because none of the girls coming up through the ranks – and no disrespect to them – are as good as me.
“Rob has said to me with my experience there should be lots of opportunities.
“To be honest, it would be great if there were girls coming up pushing me I suppose like I have done with Nicola.
“I would love the competition and it would make me better. I don’t want an easy ride because you can lose that drive.”
Meanwhile, Whiteside and her fellow Team GB star from Preston, Scott Fitzgerald, would like to thank locally-based company Scomadi Scooters for sponsoring them.
The company, which was founded by Frank Sanderson and Paul Melici, have provided the two boxers with a scooter each which they presented to them at Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club, in Catforth Road.
Sanderson is a friend of the pair’s trainer Dave Fitzgerald, who is also the father of reigning Commonwealth Games welterweight champion Scott.
If you would like further information about Scomadi, please visit their website: www.scomadi.co.uk/