Features

Fighting the good fight
Sarah Kelly interviews an Irish kickboxing champion who finds strength in her faith

Ursula Agnew in action

'It’s only when you try to do things without God that you realise you can’t,” says Ursula Agnew, European Kickboxing Champion.

Born and raised in Belfast, a member of the Prokick Kickboxing team, Ursula always had the desire to be a fighter. “Watching it on television inspired me a lot, the desire inside me, and I just took it up then, and after eight months I had my first fight,” she says. But it was back in 2005 that she realised that something was missing. “I was in with a bad crowd, and I thought I can’t live like this,” Ursula says.

Coming from a family of great faith, Ursula’s mother prayed tirelessly for her daughter to find her own faith. “My mummy was praying for my conversion, she prayed so hard for me. She prays for me every night, and wakes up at 3am every morning to pray the Mercy Chaplet. Her prayers were answered.” It was at this point that Ursula made the decision to turn back to God. “I just prayed to God, get me out of this trouble, and I made a deal with him I’d be better,” Ursula says.

At this time, Ursula went on pilgrimage to Medjugorje and says she experienced an incredible peace in her heart - something she would later be thankful for. Following her return to Ireland, she was the victim of a terrible assault. “I was stabbed in the face by a girl. I needed 27 stitches, so Medjugorje prepared me for that,” Ursula explains. She also reveals that if it had not been for the pilgrimage and the inner peace within her, she would have probably retaliated, but instead she gave it all to God. “I learned how to forgive,” she says. “I learned to let go and just pray to God. I couldn’t achieve this on my own, but through him. He has given me the grace.”

Elegance

The saying, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ relates in particular to Ursula. She encapsulates elegance and poise. Gently spoken, you would be forgiven for assuming Ursula was not a kickboxing champion. She is just a happy, normal and well rounded young woman, and a great role model for young girls. Her career is blossoming, she exudes an inner strength and she couldn’t be happier.

Her fighting technique possesses a rare confidence that you won’t find in any other contact sport competitors. So, is it any coincidence then that before her fights, Ursula completely surrenders everything over to God and He takes it from there.

But, it wasn’t always so easy for Ursula. When she first started off, she would apply positive thinking and believing in herself before a fight, but after a while, she felt as if something was weighing on her. “Then I began losing fights which I should have won. I was beginning to worry,” Ursula says, so she prayed to Jesus and “after a year I had enough. I then said to Jesus, if you want to take me away from fighting, then I will.” Then, she walked into the ring and walked out victorious. “I entered a fight, and I walked out European Champion,” Ursula says. This she reveals is all down to God. “I put every fight in His hands,” she says and recently Ursula won three gold medals and one silver in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ursula’s formula for success, along with her training regime, is her prayer. This is vital to her performance. Not just in the ring, but also out of it. “If I went a few days without praying I’d feel spiritually dead,” she says, also highlighting how much she needs it for peace in her heart and her mind. She further reveals that she can see a difference when she doesn’t pray, but then when she returns she realises just how necessary it is.

Novena

For Ursula, the Novena to St Joseph is her prayer of choice. The prayer itself highlights that the petitioner “shall never die a sudden death or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy, or shall be burned in any fire or shall be overpowered in battle.” The last five words resonate personally with Ursula. She finds that this prayer works for her but she also wears her brown scapular.

Passion

Her passion for prayer, is equal to her passion for the fight and asked does she ever get scared, she simply responds “no, not at all”. “It’s hard to describe it. I love what I do. I have a real passion. You just have to fulfil your dreams, but I love it. You don’t think about it. It’s your desire and love for it that drives you,” Ursula says.

Her family is extremely supportive of her, but she admits that at the start they weren’t so sure. “They’re really supportive,” she says, “they are only realising the sacrifice involved. It’s brilliant to have their support, to know they’re behind me, it makes all the difference.” She also has a young son, Shane, who is over the moon and so proud of his mother’s achievements. “He was crying when I won the world champion title. He does be telling all his friends and teachers,” she says. A few years ago, Shane was in a terrible accident.

Whilst Ursula was doing her blue-belt grading, he was knocked down by a passing car whilst crossing the road. His leg was badly broken and Ursula had to take time off to care for him. “It could have been a lot worse, so thank God,” she confides. Luckily, Shane’s had a great recovery and he’s back to normal supporting his mum.

Ursula, not content with just being a World Champion Kickboxer, hopes to set up a prayer meeting in her local area.

She has been involved with groups like Youth 2000 and Pure in Heart in the past, but she would love to be with like-minded people who share her love for the faith.

 

FACT BOX

Belfast-born Ursula Agnew first started training in kickboxing in 2008 at the Lisburn Leisure centre when she became inspired to take up the sport after watching the K1 Grand Prix on Eurosport. The beauty therapist found herself two years later fighting in Japan and going along to watch the K1 Grand Prix in Tokyo with fellow team-mates from the ProKick Gym, surrounded by the biggest fighters in the world at the event that first brought her to kickboxing.

She now adds the WKN (World Kickboxing Network) world belt to her Celtic Nations, British and European crowns.

Ursula had the first defence of her WKN lightweight amateur K1 style in Belfast last June and in August she had an incredible haul of three gold medals and one silver at the World Games in Geneva, Switzerland.