Pulling on her first-ever pair of boxing gloves, her long blonde hair pulled back tightly into braids and her piercing blue eyes fixed intently on doing up the laces, Irene van Dyk is roaring with laughter. Despite her impressive height and incredible figure, she might just be the least intimidating woman on the planet. She’s never even thought about hitting another person, apart from when she jokingly gives her husband Christie a jab in the forearm – though he does admit she packs a powerful punch. And though she can barely keep a straight face for the Weekly’s photographer as she dances around the ring at Auckland’s Boxing Alley, Irene (43) is hoping she’ll be able to find the “animal within” before her debut match in the name of charity Fight for Life.
“My challenge is to get angry,” she begins. “Even Christie and [daughter] Bianca don’t think I can do it. Bianca’s like, ‘Come on, Mum. You don’t have it in you to hurt somebody!’ But I’m gonna have to find it. I think it’s there. Deep, deep, deep down. Hopefully, my natural competitiveness will come out and the adrenaline will kick in, and when push comes to shove, I’ll be punching their lights out!”
The former Silver Fern has wanted to participate in the annual Fight for Life event, which raises money for Hospice Waikato, for more than five years, but netball prevented any forays into the boxing ring. But now her professional career is over, she’s found herself ready and able to take on new challenges – with Fight for Life first on the list.
“I was really looking for something different,” she tells. “I said to Christie I wanted to push my boundaries. Everything in my life has been planned, organised and set, whereas this is the unknown. It’s why I’m so excited!”
Who her opponent will be is also currently unknown. While a worldwide search is on to find the woman to take on our best-loved netballer, Irene only has one specification – it can’t be anyone she knows.
“Someone suggested Maria [Tutaia] this morning,” she gasps. “Hell, no! She’s my little girl. I can’t do that! The only people I can think of who I’d like to fight are the girls from the Australian netball team,” Irene giggles, before adding, “Not because I don’t like them, just because I’m already used to fighting them!”
And while she admits she’s “packing herself” in fear, it’s in a “fantastic kind of way”.
“I mean, I could potentially hyperventilate in the ring, but I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she laughs.
Her only concern, apart from the actual fight, is that people might take her decision to fight the wrong way.
“I know there will be those who hate the idea of boxing, and who might jump to conclusions. I’m definitely not condoning violence here. I’m doing this for Hospice. If I can make these people’s final moments a little bit brighter, then I’m going to do it. These people are actually fighting for their lives.”
So less than three months out from the fight, which takes place on December 5 at Hamilton’s Claudelands Arena, all Irene has to do is find a trainer, an opponent and learn how to fight.
“Oh, God,” she says, laughing. “How hard can it be? Actually, I know it’s going to be hard. I know I’m probably going to cry a few times and I’ll be hurting in places I’ve never felt before.”
She also needs to come up with a boxing name and an entrance song for the bout – perhaps Irene “Smiling Assassin” van Dyk?
“Ooh, I like that one,” she exclaims. “It’s like, boom! That can be the working title. As for the song, I’m not too sure. I don’t think Happy from Despicable Me will cut it, will it?”
One person she won’t be sparring with, however, is husband Christie, who very swiftly ruled himself out as a training partner.
“He reckons I punch way too hard, even when I’m just joking. Whoops!”
But when Irene does finally step into the ring, she promises one thing – that famous smile will remain firmly in place, no matter how much she’s getting knocked around.
“You know,” she whispers, as she takes her gloves off after our photoshoot, “I actually rate my chances pretty highly. Well,” she laughs, “someone’s got to!”
The Burger King Fight for Life, Claudelands Arena, Hamilton, December 5. For more information, go to Ticketek.co.nz.
WATCH: Irene van Dyk talks about the biggest fight of her life
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