At first glance, it's easy to dismiss Brandy Barnes' debut at the Women's boxing World Championships as a disappointment. The results sheet would certainly record it as such for the boxer from the Cayman Islands, who competes in the lightest (48kg) weight division. RSC (referee stopped contest outclassed) it reads, with 42 seconds to go in round one against Korea's Bak Chorong.
Yet, even as the referee waved the fight off and Barnes headed to her corner, she had a smile on her face. For athletes like Barnes, hopes for victory might have been slim even before her journey to New Delhi from the other end of the world. Before she would take her hiding from an athlete who has gold in her eyes and promises plenty of pain with her fists. Yet there is satisfaction at having competed. This is her journey and her choice.
Coach Stuart O'Connor admires and respects that. O'Connor, a bull-necked clean-shaven former assistant coach with England, who has worked with the likes of Anthony Joshua previously, says he noticed the slight 22-year-old when he first arrived to take charge of the island's boxing program in March this year. "The problem was not in the facilities but just in the kind of fighters. This is a Caribbean country with plenty of money and all the laid-back attitude that that brings with it. There's no need for Brandy to fight and yet she does. That's what makes her special," he says.
For Barnes, boxing is in the blood. "My dad was a boxer who represented the Cayman Islands at the Commonwealth Games and so were my brothers. But it was just a hobby at the start. But I want to get better," she says.
Harder said than done -- especially in a country as small as Cayman Islands (population 61,000). "There's maybe 20 boxers of all ages in the Cayman islands. There's simply no one to train with at home. We had to take Brandy to the UK in order to get any sort of sparring. When we started, she was sparring with beginners and in a few months, we had progressed to where Brandy was sparring against the England boxers," says O'Connor.
All the same, it was still an experience when Barnes stepped into the practise hall for the first time in New Delhi. "I've never seen so many women sparring together. It's just an eye-opening experience to see something like that," says Barnes.
Her relatively late start and the fact that she struggles even to get enough practice means she faces a steep learning curve. "A lot of experiences which other boxers might take for granted are new to me. Just the packing for tournaments or training or eating correctly is something I have to figure out myself. I'm just trying to experience as much as I can. My first big tournament was the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and I was absolutely terrified but these experiences shape me," she says.
While Barnes lost by a knock out in the first round in Australia too, she's received nothing short of wholehearted support from her country. "They are surprised to know that this tiny girl is a boxer and is going to India but they always tell me how proud they are of me. I work at a TV station back home and recently I was making the graphics for a program ahead of the World Championships and a lot of my colleagues came up and congratulated me," she says.
While Barnes is racking up the losses, she's hoping to take as much experience as she can for the future. "I feel like every time I fight I get even more comfortable in the ring. Hopefully I'm going to learn something more from this tournament," she says.
And while other's compete for medals, Barnes fights for respect. "To compete is to take your level up. People back home from such a small country are proud every time I compete. But I don't just want to travel to tournaments by way of invitation. I'm preparing for the Pan American Games next year. If I qualify I will be the first boxer from my country to qualify. But I want to fight and show them that it's possible."