Spotlight: Lily Whitman ’20 raises the bar in boxing and boundary breaking
What was Lily Whitman '20 like in high school? 'Curious,' according to her teachers. 'Attentive.' 'Disciplined.' Now a rising senior at the University of Notre Dame, majoring in neuroscience and behavior, this former ASL field hockey MVP and star Standard editor continues to live up to these adjectives—and a few more.
In fact, you could even describe Lily as 'dominating' and 'controlling": "Whitman started out strong and controlled the pace of the first round," reported The Observer, a collegiate publication. "With a bevy of quick jabs and a strong left hook punctuating her attacks, 'The Chelsea Dagger' got off to a clear advantage."
'Chelsea Dagger' is yet another descriptor to add to Lily's growing list of attributes. A nod to her roots in Chelsea, London, which the Whitmans have called home since relocating from New York 16 years ago, 'Chelsea Dagger' is Lily's ring name when she competes as a member of Notre Dame's Baraka Bouts, the largest all-female boxing club in the world.
"Fate brought me to Baraka Bouts," explains Lily. Stepping onto the iconic South Bend, Indiana campus in the fall of 2020, during the height of COVID, Lily attended the freshman activities fair online. Scrolling through the pared-down list of options, including the club field hockey team, which Lily was set on joining, she realized that her favorite sport wouldn't be the intense commitment she thought it would be. "There would only be a few hockey practices a week because of the new COVID schedule, and I wanted to find something else to do with my free time," she said. A picture of Baraka Bouts, where collegiate girls like her were pounding a punching bag with everything they had, caught her eye. Plus, the merchandise was pretty cool. "I thought how awesome it would be to bring back a Baraka T-shirt to London and tell my ASL friends about the cool new club I had joined," remembers Lily. With no prior boxing experience, however, she still wasn't sold. What if she hated it, or broke her nose? Reasoning that trying something new was what college was all about, Lily managed to quiet the doubts long enough to sign up. "I went to my first practice and just about died," she recalls. The HIIT workout had been exhausting but also exhilarating, and somehow, Lily managed to have fun. "So much fun!" she enthuses. "Three years later, I am absolutely overjoyed that I decided to step outside my comfort zone."
Lily and the 150 women who take part in Baraka Bouts are dedicating themselves to what is considered to be the most physically fit club Notre Dame has to offer. That means at least four weekly two-hour practices (though Lily typically does six) where boxers condition, train and spar, from September through November. The season's culminating event is a three-day tournament of bouts, or fights, when boxers are paired off according to height, weight and skill to gear up against an adversary in the ring. "It's one of the most terrifying things I have ever done," Lily admits. "It's unnatural to have someone in front of you swinging punches at you." With experience, she conditioned herself to push through her fears, face them head-on, and defy her previous limitations to do and be more than she ever thought possible. Teammates admire Lily for her technical dominance; "What takes others a week to learn, Lily masters in one day," they praise. A disciplined trainer with a southpaw, Lily has learned to leverage her left-hand advantage, hitting "the pit" for hours at a time to improve her footwork and straight (one, two) punches. "Baraka Bouts has taught me so much about myself—grit, determination, perseverance," affirms Lily.
As much as the club engenders fitness, it equally services the athletes' hearts as well. The name "Baraka" comes from the Swahili word for blessings; all proceeds from the Baraka Bouts tournament go directly to the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa, specifically two schools in Uganda. Through individual and team fundraising efforts, the Baraka Bouts has donated more than $500,000 to this mission in support of improved facilities and programs for these schools and their deserving students. "It's important to remember that we fight in order to make a difference," Lily explains, "and that we are committed to a cause that is bigger than ourselves."
In her final season as a Baraka Bout boxer, Lily will serve as a co-vice president responsible for the club's philanthropic efforts. "I want to raise as much money as possible to benefit our missions in East Africa," she says. She will also be busy defending the accolades she achieved last year, both as a Baraka Bouts champion and as the recipient of the "Best Boxer award." Beyond this, Lily just wants to chase the fun she discovered during that first Baraka Bouts practice when she was still a nervous novice. "I hope to go into marketing once I graduate from Notre Dame," Lily shares. "I'm not set on a specific industry just yet, so we'll see where I land."
Judging by her Baraka Bouts journey, we are confident that the Chelsea Dagger will land on her quick feet, gloves on, ready for whatever awaits her in the ring.
The 2023 Baraka Bouts tournament will be held on 6, 9 and 15 November. To learn more about the club and how to support the Holy Cross Missions in East Africa, please visit the website.