Million Euro Baby
Even today, as Kate Middleton shows, some girls grow up dreaming of becoming princesses. But, like Delfine Persoon, more and more young ladies just want to kick ass.
Flanders is home to the European lightweight women’s boxing champion
The young woman from West Flanders last month became the new European lightweight women's boxing champion, after defeating Switzerland's Nicole Boss to take the vacant title. In front of a crowd of 1,000 in Lichtervelde, near Bruges, Persoon spent 10 rounds trying - and often succeeding - to pummel Boss in the face. "It felt good, but I knew I could go further," she says. "I've only been boxing for four years. I can learn more."
Persoon, 26, works with the railway police by day, but fits in a rigorous training schedule. When she enters the ring, she puts all thoughts of public service away and focuses on crushing her opponent. "The moment that bell rings, I just want to win," she says. "It's her or me. There are two boxers, and only one can win, so you do everything you can to be that one."
It didn't start out that way. Her first hobby as a child was ballet, though she never quite latched on to it. Still, if Mohammed Ali's motto "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" has any truth to it, these lessons would have helped her eventually. But Persoon, who grew up in Moorslede, near Roeselare, took up judo when she was six and quickly found an aptitude for it. "I liked it," she says. "We lived in a small town, and there are not many sport facilities there. But judo was one of the few things I could do."
The first time Persoon entered a judo competition, when she was 12, it was the Belgian championships; she came third. By the time she was 14, her prowess had earned her an invitation to a sports academy in Antwerp, but she only stayed a year. "I was sleeping there, and it was too far from home." She still become Belgian champion, reaching the semifinals at the Youth Olympics in Murcia, Spain, in 2001.
When Persoon left school, she studied to become a sports instructor, but it was difficult to find work, and she joined the police academy in 2007. By then, a back injury had forced her to curtail her judo. She briefly tried channelling her energy into tennis, before her police supervisors suggested boxing.
"I didn't want to do it at first," she says. "and I only started because I wanted to get fit. I soon found out that there is a lot of discipline in boxing." She was reluctant to tell her parents about the boxing - until a black eye forced her to confess.
Now she trains every day, getting up at 5.00 to go running and spending three hours in the ring every night. She still sometimes fits in judo and is the Belgian police and armed forces champion.
Although she turned professional in 2009 - which means she can't compete in the Olympics - Persoon can't make a living out of boxing. Training and travel come with costs, and "there's not a lot of money in it for women," she says. Her record is 12 wins out of 13 matches - five of them with a knockout. By day, she patrols stations and trains in West Flanders, dealing with pickpockets and people wandering onto the tracks. "I am a little bit more confident because I know that if there is a problem and someone is aggressive, I can look after myself," she says. "I'm not scared of anyone."
Yes, Persoon has seen Million Dollar Baby, the Oscar-winning movie about a female boxer starring Hilary Swank. "It's a good film, although it's not a pretty ending," she says. And she has seen Rocky four times. For Persoon, that, more than a royal wedding, is the real fairy tale. www.boxingdelfine.be