16 May 2014
For Krystal Cull, basketball has always been her bag. With more than 12 years’ experience under her belt — and coveted spot as a forward with the Toowoomba Mountaineers — the 26-year-old Queenslander was not so much knocking as banging on the door of a professional career.
Then she picked up a pair of boxing gloves.
‘I started doing some boxing classes now and then as part of my conditioning for basketball,’ says Krystal, who in 2006 was awarded a scholarship to play basketball in the American college system.
‘Then I joined a club that held ‘corporate night fights’. So you trained for six weeks and then had a muck-around fight at the end of it. And that was when I started to think, “wow, I really like this!”
‘I stopped looking at the sport as just punching someone in the face. Boxing is about tactics and technique. It’s challenging — and I like that there’s no one you can hide behind.
‘You simply have to face your fears.’
With the boxing bug having taken hold, it was unsurprising that Krystal put her hand up for the inaugural AIS Sports Draft in 2013. With 292 applicants, the development program fast-tracks talented athletes in sports that offer medal potential for Australia, and in 2013 focused on combat sports such as boxing and judo.
Krystal quickly impressed selectors, and now finds herself training six days a week in the hope of becoming one of Australia’s Olympic boxing stars.
‘It’s been fantastic,’ she says. ‘Athletes have to choose their sport so early on, so you never really know if you might have been able to go further in another sport. The Sports Draft is giving me that chance. It’s challenging me — in a good way, of course.’
For all her enthusiasm, however, Krystal admits the transition from basketball to boxing hasn’t been easy — and she’s had to absorb some blows to her confidence during the last eight months.
‘It can mess with you mentally,’ she says candidly about the switch. ‘You’re at an elite level and then you find yourself at the bottom again. I started to question myself, to wonder if I’d ever be at that [elite] level again.
‘But I’ve come to accept that I need to have patience. It takes time. The athletes I compete against have been training for years, and if they decided to suddenly start playing basketball our places would be reversed.’
The patience seems to be paying dividends, with Krystal winning the 64 kg division at the recent Queensland Novice Titles — filling her with confidence as she looks towards the Rio Olympics and beyond.
‘You need to aim high — otherwise what’s the point in doing it? I’m not just doing this for fun. Boxing is a tough sport, and I want to go somewhere — to get to the top, to be the best.’
But Krystal does have a warning for potential Sport Draft recruits.
‘I haven’t eaten white bread since I started!’ she concludes with a laugh.