SHELLEY Watts, pictured early in her amateur boxing career which started in northern New South Wales, has come a long way since she took up the sport in 2010 due to a football injury. Picture: Jay Cronan.
SHELLEY Watts, pictured early in her amateur boxing career which started in northern New South Wales, has come a long way since she took up the sport in 2010 due to a football injury. Picture: Jay Cronan. JAY CRONAN

Shelley Watts knows she can't treat life with kid gloves

SHELLEY Watts may be studying to become a lawyer, but she plans to mete out her own form of justice when she competes in the Australian boxing team at this year's Rio Olympics.

A talented athlete and footballer while growing up in regional New South Wales, Watts took up boxing after rupturing her ACL in 2008.

She lives by the saying she has tattooed on her stomach: "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die tomorrow."

She talked to Australian Regional Media's Josh Spasaro about her journey so far.

EIGHT years ago, when Shelley Watts was lying on a hospital bed with a serious knee injury and a torn hamstring, she would have laughed if someone had suggested she would become Australia's first female gold medal-winning boxer at a Commonwealth Games.

Watts had been a promising footballer, winning the best female player award in the Far North Coast competition in New South Wales while she was studying to be a lawyer at Southern Cross University in Lismore.

Then she suffered her serious injury.

"While I was on the hospital bed I tore my hamstring while I was trying to lift myself up," she said.

"So on top of the knee reco I had to deal with the pain in my hamstring.

"Back then if someone had said 'You are going to be an elite athlete and you're going to represent your country at the Olympic Games', I would have laughed at them.

"And if they told me it was for boxing I would have been hysterical."

A year into her rehab, Watts said she did take up boxing, thinking that it was "a sport you didn't really have to use your legs for".

"That was the reason I started doing it," she said.

Four years later she was standing on the top step of the dais at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the gold medal from the 57-60kg division hanging around her neck.

Watts said she owed much of her success to her mother's advice, which came while she grew up in the small community of Laurieton on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

"One funny little story we always talk about is when I was in Year One and my report card came through, and I got all As, and one B," the 28-year-old said.

"She said 'It's not the worst thing in the world, but don't let it happen again'.

"Apparently I told mum when I was 11 I wanted to be a lawyer.

"A lot of kids want to be a fire-fighter or an astronaut or something fun like that.

"But I pushed myself through school and made sure I got to university and studied a law degree."

It has been six years since Watts, with 63 wins in 75 amateur fights, first entered a boxing ring.

It has been a journey of a lifetime in just six years.

"I work hard and give my all to the sport of boxing, and that's the reason why I've succeeded," she said.

"I guess you can say it's a fairytale. It has been a quick progression, but I'm a big believer of the saying 'You get out what you put in'.

"I've just made sure that boxing has become my life."

Watts will have the whole of Laurieton behind her in Rio, with the tight-knit community throwing her a ticker-tape parade after her gold-medal triumph in 2014.

But Watts' most important supporter in her quest to become Australia's first gold medal-winning Olympian is herself, particularly when the going gets tough and she struggles to make ends meet.

"When I was trying to make the Commonwealth Games one of my friends asked me, 'So you don't get paid doing what you do?'

"And I said, 'No, I'm an amateur'.

"She said, 'Why would you do that?'

"It's pretty easy for me to answer that question - you can pick money up off the side of the street, but you can't do the same with a gold medal."

Watts receives funding assistance from the Australian Sports Commission's Winning Edge program so she can continue to dream big.

And despite her financial struggles and a looming career in law, she sees no end in sight to her time as a boxer.

"Law still excites me. I don't know when I'll go into it, but I know I will one day," she said.

"If my body wants to keep going, I'll let it go as long as it needs to.

"I feel younger than ever before, and mentally I feel like I'm the best person I can be."

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