Boxing champ dreams big
Siona Fernandez shares her story from how she came from dancing in Goa, India, to becoming a New Zealand boxing champion.
When Siona Fernandes left India, she had no idea that in six years she’d be representing New Zealand in boxing at the London Olympics.
Now Siona is setting herself another inspiring challenge – to use her New Zealand education to help people live healthier lives.
Siona, who is from Goa, arrived in New Zealand in 2006 with a Masters’ in Psychology and a background in Indian classical dance. When she saw that her local gym offered boxing classes, she decided to give boxing a go.
“I wanted to replace my dance with something that would give me the same sense of enjoyment and fun, but without the pressure of competition,” says Siona.
“Punching the bag as hard as I could gave me the same mind-body focus that I developed with dancing.”
It helped that the form of traditional dance Siona had been practicing from when she was seven til she moved to New Zealand at the age 24 was Bharatanatyam, which is famous for its spectacular footwork.
Siona made rapid progress in boxing, ranking 12th in the world in the flyweight category in 2011. The following year, she and a teammate became the first women to represent New Zealand in an Olympic Games.
After her success as a boxer, Siona needed a career that supported her financially. New Zealand offered an academic degree in sport and exercise that matched her passion, experience and desire to learn.
“The question I asked myself was, ‘What opportunities can New Zealand give me that I couldn’t get back home?’” says Siona.
“The answer was sport and physical activity.”
In 2014, Siona started studying for a Master in Health Science at AUT. She is now writing her Masters’ thesis on Indian participation in sports and physical activity.
“In India, education is mainly about developing a capacity for memory and retention of knowledge. Studying in New Zealand has helped me to develop and apply my critical and creative thinking, and has given me opportunities to try different fields of work,” she says.
I’ve learned to think outside the box and to express my thinking.
Siona has also enjoyed the relationship she has had with her supervisors, particularly Associate Professor Erica Hinckson. She says she has been given great support at AUT to achieve her academic pursuits.
“My perception of the education here is that it has been very practical and can be applied to my current profession in health and fitness industry. Through my research topic of working with Indians’ participation in sport in New Zealand, I have been able to expand my thinking towards community sports participation,” says Siona.
“I hope my education and experience will bring me opportunities to develop a career in my passion, which is for New Zealand systems in areas like healthcare and sport to become more culturally responsive to Indians living here.”