'I'm a Muslim woman, I'm visually-impaired and I'm a boxer'

By Nichola Rutherford
BBC Scotland News

media captionSannah Hussain tells how she "just fell in love with boxing"

Fit, strong, and with a steely determination behind her eyes, Sannah Hussain has many of the traits you need to be successful in the boxing ring.

But she is very different to your average amateur boxer.

Sannah is a Scottish Muslim who wears a headscarf and dresses modestly and also lives with a series of debilitating health conditions.

The 25-year-old was born with Albinism, a condition which affects the colour of her hair, the pigment in her skin and has caused a serious visual impairment.

She also has an autoimmune condition, called Myasthenia Gravis, which causes muscle weakness and fatigue.

But the Glasgow-based charity worker is adamant her health conditions will not prevent her from stepping into the ring for her first exhibition fight this weekend.

"I've always been an active person regardless of my vision, regardless of my muscles," she told BBC Scotland.

"I've always been a go-getter, I've always wanted to be up and about, doing things."

image captionSannah has a severe visual impairment and suffers from a muscle condition which causes fatigue

Her passion for the sport developed after she set up a class for women from minority groups as part of her job with the Human Appeal charity earlier this year.

She wanted to provide safe, friendly, and empowering fitness sessions for women who might normally wear the hijab.

The Saturday morning sessions at the Kynoch Boxing gym in Glasgow's Kinning Park have been popular with women uneasy in a "normal" Lycra-dominant gym environment.

"We arranged to have the gym closed off to anybody else at that time of day, so the girls could come in, take their hijabs off and feel comfortable with what they're wearing and focus purely on the working out and not feel self-conscious," Sannah said.

"It's really helped break that barrier that women can't do this, or women of this community can't do this, because they certainly can.

"Like everything in life, it's just about finding a way around the things that are challenging."

image copyrightSannah Hussain
image captionShe fell in love with the sport after taking part in a class for black and minority ethnic (BME) women at a Glasgow gym

But the project has had an unexpected effect on Sannah herself.

"I didn't realise how much I would fall in love with it," she said.

"Even though it makes me tired and sometimes sick of being here, overall I love doing something that makes me feel independent.

"This isn't about being part of a team, it's about what you put into it is what you'll get out of it.

"Although I may never be as successful as other people, I can certainly see an improvement in myself, in my own happiness."

Sannah says she has lost weight, gained confidence and seen her overall fitness improve since setting up the classes in February.

It's been a remarkable journey for a woman whose sight is so bad she struggles to catch the right bus or train because she can't see the signs.

Her ability to see detail or read small writing is limited and it took her an additional two years to complete her degree.

And she takes strong daily medication for a muscle condition which can cause extreme fatigue in her arms and legs, and even slurred speech.

Exhibition fight

But she says her new training regime has given her confidence to push herself further, despite the limitations of her medical conditions.

"Coming in here, you're training so hard sometimes that you really just want to stop," she said.

"But the coaches, they're not going to let you stop, they know that there's more in you and there's more that they're going to get out of you and they'll keep pushing you.

"When you overcome that barrier, it makes you realise that there's so much more you can probably do that you didn't realise and you want to discover those things."

image captionSannah and her sparring partner Sophie Paton are among an increasing number of women who are taking up boxing

Now she has signed up to fight at Judgement Night, a boxing event in Glasgow which includes a series of exhibition clashes featuring beginners like Sannah.

She has been training hard for the clash against an as-yet unknown opponent and she is determined to give her best performance.

But she admitted: "I am really nervous, I am really scared, but if I let that stuff stop me then I'd never leave the house."

Sannah wants to use the fight to break down barriers to the sport and raise money for children who don't get similar opportunities.

Organisers SK Promotions are allowing her flexibility in everything from the length of the rounds, to what she wears in the ring.

"If I want to wear leggings and a long-sleeved t-shirt they'll let me do that," she said.

"If I'm going to wear my sports hijab, they'll let me do that because they understand from speaking to me how important this is to show to other people there's no limits, there's always a way round something."

The cash she raises by taking part in the fight will help child welfare around the world.

"I'm literally fighting for their right for survival," she said.

"If it wasn't for me being in this country, having the healthcare system that we have, having the family that I have, and the opportunities that I have, I wouldn't be who I am today. "

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