Electric blue, with white stripes and neon yellow trim—I can’t help but squint every time I look at my feet. The colour is intense. I could have been more discreet I suppose, keeping the pageantry to a minimum and, like others at the gym, opted for shoes in classic, non-distracting hues. Basic blacks. Stonewall greys. Neutral bases with flashes of red, blue, green, purple, or pink. Colour combinations that almost always resemble fresh bruises.
It’s rare for my attention to be diverted by a burst of orange suede or coral leather but it happens on occasion. Feet sheathed in shades of mint, lemon or tangerine catch my eye as someone anchors and pivots gracefully across the ring. I’m now proud to be part of this colourful collective of misfits and grandstanders. My kicks are loud, and brash. They demand your attention.
I didn’t buy them for the look, however. I snapped them up because my feet are gargantuan—a vexing handicap if you’re a woman. Finding something that combines performance with visual appeal is not easy, especially after learning few brands make boxing shoes for women to begin with.
Most are made for girls or the ‘average’* woman. Sizes five to eight are the norm. Half sizes are the stuff of myth. Nines are infrequent and come in the most hideous shades. Tens and above are sparkly and dazzling only because you see them in your dreams.
Let’s get real, such a shoe does not exist.
I had to put myself in men’s athletic shoes when I was fifteen, around the time I started playing competitive ball. I’m used to the drill. So like the good old days I waded deep into the men’s sections of the Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Title, and Rival sites. Yet, the problem with unicorn-sized feet is men’s shoes tend to either be too wide or some of the most unsightly things you’ve ever seen.
It’s why I spent weeks looking for something appropriate and, in the meantime, tripping over my feet in the ring. I trawled every chain, from Champs Sports to Foot Locker. Once I exhausted my options stateside I extended my search to Canada, and then drifted across the Atlantic.
The United Kingdom is where I hit pay dirt. I found a site selling an array of men’s boxing shoes, half sizes included. Of the two pairs of available eight and a half (UK sizing) one was black with white stripes, and the other was “shock blue” with accents of luminous yellow. Both sat in my virtual cart for a day until I said to hell with it. I have enough black in my wardrobe. Sixty bucks and five days later my blue unicorn shoes arrived. I took them out of the box and shook my head. I wondered if the boots would turn me into a superhero.
With embarrassment, I laced up my shoes for the first time two weeks ago. Thankfully, the gym is quieter than normal at the hour I usually train. Three strapping amateurs jump rope on the other side of the gym. A tall and muscular regular works the heavy bag, taking instruction from his trainer. Two fighters gear up for several rounds in the ring. I walk to the corner and start shadowboxing in front of the mirror.
“Damn!” Coach yells as he rounds the corner, throwing his punch mitts in the air. He points at my feet, making a spectacle. I itch to hide but when I open my mouth to throw shade a laugh comes out instead.
I can’t blame him. My feet are wild. These shoes mean business. I slip into the zone. We get to work and Coach pushes me hard, testing my limits.
But I keep up—fast and fearless.
I never thought a pair of shoes would make such a difference but— Great Hera!—they do. For the first time I wasn’t a female version of Gumby, fumbling all over the place. I had grip and a touch of grace.
I could feel the ground beneath my feet.
And although my footwork will likely remain questionable (I move with the speed of a drunken sloth when tired) I slipped with ease and pivoted like I was electric, completely wired. Muscles fired from memory as I nailed combinations. My body moved in the way I always imagined it could. My legs collaborated with my feet, while my feet and the floor opened up a direct line of communication.
After the session Coach asked how I felt. I smiled wide, “Great. Fucking amazing.”
“It’s the shoes, Baby,” he said.
“You bet,” I replied, placing my hand over a heart that refused to stop racing.
The shoes certainly deserve a lot of the credit. For the first time in months I had energy to burn. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, flammable like lighter fluid. Most importantly, wearing those shoes flipped a switch that allowed me to see the bigger picture. The sweetest victories are awarded when no one is watching.
After eight months of boxing I finally took myself seriously.
I felt super in my shoes. Heroic even.