23 Nov 2020

Episode 3: Diamonds in the Ring - Breaking Silence

From Breaking Silence, 12:00 am on 23 November 2020

Series Classification: PG (Parental Guidance Recommended for Younger Viewers)

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Can boxing help domestic abuse survivors regain their self respect? Daniella Smith, a former world champion boxer, believes so.  She runs Diamonds in the Ring, a boxing gym for women.  And, many of the women who train there are former clients of women’s refuges.

Shonie is one of them.  She survived horrific abuse at the hands of her former partner, who was jailed for his abuse.  We follow her as she trains to fight in one of Diamonds in the Ring’s charity boxing matches.  It’s the second time she’s doing it.

But her training schedule is not going as planned and Daniella is worried if Shonie is prepared to box on fight night.  Yet, on the night, after a tentative start, she pulls through.  All in all, Diamonds in the Ring raises over $30,000 for women’s refuges that night.

And their charity doesn’t stop there. The episode ends with Simonne following Daniella from the boxing gym to Manukau Women’s Refuge, with car loads of Christmas presents.  Simonne looks on as Daniella and her team bring some much needed Christmas cheer to the refuge.

Daniella Smith: "Don't give up on youself."

Author: Lisa Metivier

World boxing champion Daniella Smith well and truly knows how to fight for and defend herself in the ring.  But she wasn’t always able to do this in her personal life.  Having lived through an abusive relationship and knowing what it was to feel powerless, these days her energy is firmly focused on empowering others.  She does this through her charitable trust, "Diamonds in the Ring."

Always a strong sportswoman, Daniella’s first love was basketball which she played competitively.  One day a friend suggested she try boxing just for extra fitness.  But it gave Daniella far more than that.  "Boxing is a powerful tool.  It allowed me to do so much.  I felt like I could walk into any world with my head held high.  I got hooked."  She went from strength to strength gaining multiple national and Oceania titles in her career.

Alongside competing Daniella was coaching.  Another big turning point in her life came when, responding to an invitation, she took her team along to Women’s Refuge.  It was a pivotal moment in her life when women there stood up and shared their life testimonies.  She didn’t see it coming but she was knocked for six.  Even more so as at that stage she still hadn’t found the courage to share her own experiences of domestic abuse.  She recalls, "Here I was, supposed to be this tough woman, and I didn’t have their strength.  What confidence to stand and speak like that.  That was my decision point; I’m going to use my skills to raise money and make sure these women have got what they need."

The vessel she came up with for doing this, along with co-founder Sarah Kapeli, is the Diamonds In The Ring Charitable Trust which officially started in August 2018.  Alongside other fund-raising activities their big-hit item is the corporate fight night they run twice a year, all the proceeds of which go to Women’s Refuge.  The basic concept is simple but the rewards are multi-faceted.

The participants, primarily but not exclusively female, are split into two teams.  While Daniella trains one team at her boxing and fitness studio, the second team is trained by another high ranking boxer.  Both teams attend their own 14 week training camp and then come together to fight it out on the big night.  For Daniella it’s an emotional journey.  "A lot of the time the girls have shared with me and I know their pains and struggles.  So when I see them achieve something, even if it’s small in boxing terms, it’s a proud moment for me.  It touches my heart."

Daniella sees the whole event, the actual fight night and the boot camp leading up to it, as an empowering experience.  Not only do participants gain strength and confidence on a physical level, they become part of a supportive community that comes together for a cause.  And she’s a big believer in the power of giving, "We live in a take, take, take world where we’re all taught to get what we can.  But there’s something so special about learning the power of giving."

The CEO from Women’s Refuge, Dr Ang Jury, also sees that the events run by the trust bring rewards beyond the mere financial.  As she puts it, "I, personally, have the greatest of admiration for Daniella and Sarah’s achievements and Women’s Refuge is beyond grateful for their support.  We believe that the boxing events that the Diamonds in the Ring Trust produce not only benefit the women and children we work with through showing strong confident women succeeding, but also encourage women to train in a sport that allows them to gain strength, courage and empowerment.  It is truly a remarkable event."

There has been some criticism levelled at the very concept of using a sport such as boxing to raise money for victims of domestic abuse.  Daniella doesn’t pull any punches in answering the criticism, "These women are choosing to put on those gloves, get into the ring and fight for themselves.  Domestic abuse sufferers don’t ever choose to get beaten.  We are fighting for the women and children who can’t fight for themselves."

Not everyone who takes part in the Diamonds In the Ring journey has a direct connection to, or experience of, domestic abuse.  Many simply see Women’s Refuge as a worthy cause to support.  But others are driven to take part for more personal reasons as indicated on the Diamonds’ social media page.  Shonie has signed up to take part in fight night for the second year in a row.  She just can’t do enough to support Women’s Refuge as she believes she pretty much owes her  life to the support they once gave her.  During her first training camp she also did her own fund-raising run, completing over one hundred laps of Waitakere Stadium.  Her intention, to raise both money and awareness.  She was wanting to show women that they’re not defined by their past and can do anything they put their minds to.

What "the Diamonds" have put their minds to is certainly paying off.  Since its inception Sarah says the trust has donated around $150,000 to Women’s Refuge alone as well as also donating to some  smaller independent refuges.  Still with the clear vision of wanting to help provide women with what they need, both Daniella and Sarah are delighted that some of their funds are being channelled to help women further their education.  They know that the future impact from women being able to do this will be far-reaching and positive.

Dr Ang Jury, CEO of Women’s Refuge concurs, "A portion of the funds raised through the boxing events is allocated to a scholarship fund that is awarded to women in our care who want to pursue educational opportunities.  If you can imagine wanting to make a better life for yourself after leaving an abusive partner, but having no idea how you will afford to do this, then receiving a huge leg-up financially to support your dreams, you can begin to understand the tremendous difference that this scholarship makes in the lives of its recipients.  It provides tangible hope for the future and opportunities for achievement that were previously unattainable."

Daniella and Sarah are onto something good.  They’re doing good and feeling good about it.  They plan to stick to their successful fund-raising formula.  And as they raise money, they continue to raise awareness around issues of domestic abuse.  And as they watch their boxers gain physical strength, they also see them gain strength in other ways.  As Daniella says, "I know that boxing is going to help these women.  I can't make it work, I can't make it happen but I know it does cause it worked for me.  The real fight is with yourself.  I’m always stressing to them, "Don't give up on yourself."  And they all see that we don't give up on them either."

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Magnetic Pictures

Magnetic Pictures Photo: Magnetic Pictures

Juanita Edwards and Brian Holland formed Magnetic Pictures in 2019 with a view to creating original, high quality programmes people love to watch. Their passion is factual content with a social focus.

Juanita and Brian’s recent projects include the Anzac Day documentary Paradise Soldiers acknowledging the contribution and sacrifice of Cook Island soldiers for the NZ Armed Forces from World War I through to Vietnam and present day, and web series K Road Chronicles II exploring homelessness in Aotearoa. 

Made with the support of NZ On Air

Made with the support of NZ On Air Photo: NZ On Air