She’s a classical Bharatnatyam dancer, but Siona Fernandes from Porvorim is a keen pugilist too, having recently cemented her spot in the London 2012 Olympics to compete in the 51-kg-flyweight-boxing category.
The news was confirmed last month, after her performance at the World Amateur Championships in Qinhuangdao, China. Fernandes was ecstatic when she learned about her qualification for the Olympics, but admits the months ahead will be strenuous. “After being nominated I was happy to know I did the best I could, and after my confirmation by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, I knew it was time to work harder than ever,” she said.
Five years ago, when she travelled to New Zealand to visit her father, she never imagined she would be representing the country in boxing. Her family relocated to Auckland in 2007, after her father Dr. John Fernandes, former director of theInstitute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, landed a job with the District Health Board in New Zealand.
During her stay, she took up a part-time job as a fitness trainer while pursuing work in residential care services for mental health clients. An advertisement for boxing amateurs caught her attention, and she enrolled for classes. This chance opportunity would transform her life. She said, "I was here on a visit after finishing my studies and I haven't returned since.”
Her hobby turned into a full-time career when her former coach Dylan Russell enrolled her into a corporate boxing event in Auckland. "From the first lesson I knew she had some talent, she is a quick learner very agile with good power for her weight,” he said.
Fernandes welcomed the new challenge of the sport and its high adrenaline rush. After her first year in training, she decided to contest in an amateur boxing event.
Its has been more than 15 years since Fernandes passed out from Our Lady of the Rosary High School in Dona Paula. Former teachers Amalia Pinto
Rebelo Nazareth and Carol Gomes were delighted by the news, recalling her love for sports and her triumphs in basketball both at the school and national level.
Nazareth fondly remembers her as a student saying, "Siona was a bubbly, sporty, lively, enthusiastic and intelligent child, who always had a sparkle in her eyes. I always knew that some day she would make it really big and yes indeed it has come true."
Gomes who accompanied Siona to many inter-school basketball games as her physical education teacher said she was a very promising athlete.
Having trained Siona from the sixth to tenth grade in basketball, Sandeep Warlikar, her former basketball coach recounts Fernandes being a sportsperson in everything she did. He said, “She always had this 'never say die' attitude in the field.”
Her progress has been swift and in her third year of boxing, she has already made international news headlines. In an interview with TV New Zealand, her coach Chris Martin said, “She's got a lot of spark and she’s very strong for her
weight. For a 51kg girl she has really got some pop.”
Another interesting side to Siona is her love for Bharatnatyam which she started at an early age on her mother’s insistence. Reminiscing, she feels the Indian classical dance experience was certainly beneficial.
Her former Bharatnatyam teacher P.Goswami at Kala Academy is thrilled too, but time wishes she never gave up on dance.
Rachael Rodrigues Messias, who has known Siona since seven, and shared common interests in basketball and dance, said, I’m actually not surprised that she has come this far in the field of boxing because once she has put her mind to it, there is no stopping."
When the curtains go up in July, there are chances Fernandes will be up against five-time world champion MC Mary Kom who will represent India at the event. (With inputs from Marie-dale Pais)