I wasn’t sure what to expect as I tiptoed into Heros Gym last week.
I knew I was heading to meet a female boxer, the hugely popular rising King’s Lynn talent Stevi Levy. But I didn’t know what to expect.
I hadn’t been in a gym for years – I’m, ahem, built for running – and I’d never met the 26-year-old who is in the process of turning professional.
As she stood chatting to Heros co-owner and one of her coaches Mel Payne, I waited patiently. And once she realised who was standing there, I immediately realised why Levy is adored in surroundings that she clearly feels at home in.
Bounding round from the counter came a smiling and apologetic bundle of happiness who looks more likely to smother you to death with affection than knock you to pieces. But looks can be deceiving. Because underneath her infectious energy and warmth lies a steely determined and driven boxer who is closing in on her dream of turning pro.
Later on this year the ambition looks set to become a reality with Norwich’s infamous Pro Box Gym, led by stellar names Graham Everett and Jon Thaxton, set to take Levy under their impressive stable.
“When I first got to the gym I’d say in a jokey way; ‘Do you think I could go pro?,’ smiled the woman who took up boxing aged 16.
“But as time’s gone on I’ve realised I’ve actually got a crowd who like watching me and I can train my backside off. Other people believing in me has made me believe in myself basically and it’s like a dream come true.
“Everything’s happened at once. I had a year off last year for personal reasons. I’ve got all this going on, I’ve left my job to come and work in the gym so I’m training even more than ever.
“I’m so excited for this last (semi-pro) fight so I can show how much better I am than before as I’ve put more effort in than ever as I’ve had more time.
“When I’m training people, I’m also training with them so it’s the best thing ever.”
The last pre-pro bout takes place in Norwich tomorrow against Jasmina Zapoczna on the Contenders 26 card, with hundreds of fans set to head up the A47 to cheer on their hero.
And then it’s all roads leading to even brighter things for the boxer who has garnered a fierce reputation for being a popular figure as a person, competitor and coach.
One defeat in 25 semi-professional bouts and two in six amateur contests is an outstanding return, given the calibre of her opponents.
It’s been a hell of a journey over the last 11 years for the 60kg lightweight and she’s ready to take her army of adoring supporters for the next exciting part of the ride.
The mother-of-one said: “I got into wanting to box when I watched my mate Jonny Marlow fight and I thought: ‘I’d love to do that’.
“I didn’t really have any hobbies and I started coming to the gym and I loved the company. They’ve gone on to become like my family. It was good to have something to focus on, a reason to eat good and not drink and not smoke.
“It was a commitment to something and I’ve been through a lot of bad times but boxing was the one thing I’ve stuck at and it’s helped keep my mind busy.
“When my friends come and watch me and say they’re proud and give me a hug it feels great. It’s such a comfort. I feel like it’s helped people have respect for me. I’ve gone from being a typical young person, I guess, to then doing well for myself.
“When you know they’re looking up to you or care about you, that’s the best part for me. When you’re in the ring you just want to do everyone proud who is there so you put the nerves to one side and go for it.”
It’s exactly the type of mentality that she’s shown to her coaching as she continues to be a flag-bearer for females who want to step into the ring across West Norfolk.
Whether they’re gaining motivation from her classes or from watching her do battle, ‘Super Stevi Levy’ as she is known, continues to make a knockout impact from her Lynn training base.
“We’ve tried to do girls classes before but only one or two wanted to come,” said Payne.
“I’m not sure whether they were intimidated by us but they never really gelled. But with Stevi all the girls hit it off straight away and they’re all happy and straight in the gym.
“It’ll be amazing when she turns pro. To get a girl up to the standard to box competitively I would have never thought was possible years ago.
“Things have changed and the girls are actually more dedicated and technical than the boys.”
Levy will be able to show that off one more time in Norwich this weekend before turning her attentions to her latest quest – climbing her way up the pro ranks.
She said: “I want to get some titles. The people at the top of the game are there because they’ve got a million per cent commitment and they train as much as they can.
“I’ve got no reason not to do that now. I’ve got the training, sponsors, I’ve got fans – why can’t I be as good as them?”
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To join #superstevisquad and support her as she turns pro, follow or contact Stevi Levy on Facebook or Instagram
Hugs all round as coach makes her mark
There’s more than just aggression on show at Heros Gym’s boxing classes at their base in Bryggen Road, on the North Lynn Industrial Estate.
Coaches Mel Payne, Richard Girdlestone, Dave Butcher, Paul Faulkner, Taz Taylor and Stevi Levy have created a family environment at the King’s Lynn centre. But Levy’s ability to attract more than 35 girls to some of her classes has no doubt increased that sense of belonging and togetherness.
“I’ve started training the kids, which is the best feeling,” said Levy, whose son Morgan is four.
“They listen to you and they come and give you a hug and it makes you feel so proud. It’s overwhelming really.
“A lot of the girls were really shy and not very confident but within a week or two you could see that come out of them.
“They’re enjoying themselves, they love it and you can see they’re looking up to me and listening. Because I’m going over the basics with them constantly, it’s drilling things into myself too.”
Levy holds four female sessions throughout the week while King’s Lynn Youth ABC, also based at Heros, run five.
Sessions cover a wide range of ages as well as catering for differing levels of ability.
Mel’s pride at ‘inspiration’
Coach Mel Payne has hailed Stevi Levy as a game changer for female boxing in West Norfolk.
The Heros Gym co-owner admits he couldn’t be more proud of the 26-year-old – who is now passing on her skills to the next generation just like he has for decades.
“At 16, Stevi was the first girl and the only girl in the gym,” said Payne.
“We were always a bit old fashioned about girls being hit and different things but she’s changed everyone’s opinion with how she trains; her dedication to the sport, what she puts into it and her whole attitude towards it.
“Girls and boxing is a big thing now. You’ve got Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor doing their thing and doing so well. They’re inspiring girls and Stevi is like that for us. Everyone at the gym loves her.”