The Hijabi Boxer: Safiyyah Syeed says boxing saved her life after eating disorder

Safiyyah Syeed was sat on a train on her way to work when a passenger recognised her from a photograph posted online.

"Are you The Hijabi Boxer?"

In the days that followed more and more people recognised her and asked the same question.

"Every boxer has a nickname," said Safiyyah. "I needed one and thought, yes I'll take that. So I named myself The Hijabi Boxer."

Safiyyah, aged 20, is one of only a few Muslim boxers to wear a hijab headscarf in the ring.

"It's like wearing shorts," she said. "It's just another piece of clothing. It doesn't slow me down, it doesn't make me faster. It's a religious thing I cover my hair with. I love it and wouldn't have it any other way."

Safiyyah is just two fights into her boxing career - which was stopped in its tracks for a year by the Covid pandemic. She hopes to continue her unbeaten start soon and aims to compete in the annual England Boxing National Amateur Championships later this year. After that she is targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In truth, Safiyyah has already won her biggest fight.

As a teenager she suffered from a series of illnesses which kept her bed-bound for two years. After that, an eating disorder saw her drop to five stone in weight.

It was at this point Safiyyah drew up a 'bucket list' of things she would like to try when she got better. Boxing was on that list. She says the sport has helped save her life.

At one point Safiyyah weighed just five stone.

There have been plenty of hurdles to cross in the sport.

Safiyyah recalls one of her first boxing taster sessions at a previous gym. She said: "One guy said to his partner 'shut up before I make you partner with her.' I said 'come on then, get in the ring.' I thought I was going to get battered but I ended up busting his lip."

She added: "So many people have said 'Why are you being a boxer? You can't punch. You're too light. You're Asian.' There's so many things that I've been through. I don't care what you think. Even if I don't make it at least I did it."

A happy and healthy Safiyyah is now targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics.

When she's not training in the Team Greaves Boxing Gym in Oldham, Safiyyah works in a bank and is studying a law degree.

Her amazing story continues to be an inspiration to young women.

"I want young girls - Asian girls and non-Asian girls - to see what I have done," she said. "So many people have their own issues, but you can do what you want."

Safiyyah is also an ambassador for Freetrain's Be Better campaign, designed to encourage people to level up every aspect of their life and strive to be the best they can be.