The inclusion of Poland as an EU member in 2004 was a pivotal moment of political decision making that would transform the relations between both countries. Fourteen years later roughly two hundred thousand Polish people now call the Republic of Ireland home. As an example of positive immigration, assimilation and cosmopolitanism, the Irish Polish cultural exchange has proved to be an astounding success.
Each one of those people, all two hundred thousand of them, have a story, and here is one of them.
Karolina Jaglowska moved to Ireland in 2005, part of the first wave of Polish seeking better career opportunities in a Celtic Tiger bubble of endless credit and hedonism, a world where twenty grand loans were being forced upon part-time workers.
Thirteen years later, she can call herself an Irish Boxing champion and finds herself in a canteen in Knocknacarra Galway quipping to her proud work colleagues; “We take your jobs, your men, and now your titles!”
Her journey starts at a worn down gym in Limerick City, St Francis Boxing Club, straight out of a clichéd boxing film.
“I wanted to try something different…just training for fitness,” she tells me at the NUIG Kingfisher Gym, looking toned, healthy and relaxed.
A move to Galway City in 2011 saw her work and train under the watchful eye of legendary martial artist Pete Foley at his Black Dragon Kickboxing Club. A white collar charity boxing event saw the determined young Polish girl accept a fight. With 16oz gloves, head guard and short 90 second rounds.
“I was very nervous but I won the fight. There were 800 people there including thirty of my colleagues, an amazing experience”.
Karolina’s parents, both owners of philosophy degrees, weren’t exactly enamoured with their daughter’s choice of hobby at the time.
“They thought I was going to die” “she laughs, “but they know me, how independent I can be“.
It remains an interesting and curious fact that the explosion of the white-collar scene seemed to coincide with the roar of the Celtic Tiger and often attracted bigger crowds than what Olympic level boxers and the pros garnered at the Mecca of Irish boxing, the National Stadium.
“The white-collar scene in Galway had taken off around that time,” she says.
A second fight on the always entertaining Black Dragon Clayton Hotel fight cards saw Jaglowska face a more rugged challenger.
“She was tough and strong, but I felt a determination in me to win. Also, I was less nervous”.
It was time to take the plunge into kickboxing with her first contest scheduled for the Irish Novice Championships in Galway in 2014. Her opponent was stronger and stopped Karolina early in the first round, the kind of experience that often ends a fighter’s career.
“I was heartbroken and hurt physically and emotionally. I asked myself ‘why am I doing this, why am I putting myself at risk” she recalls, “I realised after some soul-searching that kickboxing was not for me. It is a skilled and brutal sport, but I thought and fought like a boxer”.
A switch to Celtic Eagles under the tutelage of Polish coach Pawel Popko and home to current Irish national champion Thomas O Toole, saw Jaglowska discover a renewed dedication to her craft. Her first boxing bout under the multiple Irish champion winning coach saw her square off against a fellow teammate in Kudos Nightclub Oranmore in 2016.
“In training, my opponent was sparring very hard, no holding back, while I was more technical. I think she underestimated me, my friends told me she was taking selfies in the ring before the bell went!”
The desire for selfies was long gone by the bouts conclusion with Jaglowska getting her hand raised and even being gracious enough to lend her towel to her bruised and bloodied opponent. The incident reminded Karolina of the personality contrast between two of Poland’s best female fighters, former UFC champion Joanna Jedrewcyk and highly ranked Karolina Kowalkiezc.
“Even though Joanna is from my home city of Olsztyn I much prefer Karolina’s approach to fighting. She is kind and humble outside the ring or the cage but a beast inside it. It’s important to separate the two and not be a bully in front of children”.
Has Jaglowska ever experienced bullying in her time training, competing and travelling to events?
“No”, she says firmly “Never. I mostly train and spar with guys and they are so helpful, supportive and thoughtful. Boxing brings people together from all walks of life, giving them focus belief and confidence…an amazing sport”.
Her next bout was highly controversial. At the Celtic Box Cup in Dungarvan Jaglowska found herself in the ring with an opponent who had identified as transgender.
“She threw the first punch and it felt like getting hit with a table into the face, I never felt such power. I got counted twice in the first round, but I was happy just to survive at that stage”
Her opponent went on to win the tournament, halting another over matched foe in the final by early stoppage. The incident certainly raises questions about the fairness of such competition.
“I respect people’s desires. Of course, we need to respect the choices and decisions of transgender people, but this is a sport where power and strength are equalizers and a sport where damage is caused. More testing and research is required perhaps. It’s all about the power of the punch”
Again, another experience perhaps that may have evoked feelings from her kickboxing loss, yet the determined Polish woman was straight back into training the following week.
“I was grateful for the experience of sharing a team bond. Overall it was positive, and I was better conditioned to process the loss”
The next mountain to climb was the big one, the Irish novice boxing championships. The bout was rescheduled on two occasions leaving Jaglowska on tenterhooks unsure of when her presence was required in Dublin.
“We got the phone call hours beforehand and before I knew it I had finished work and was on the way to Dublin to fight. I had no time to be nervous, just instantly focus on the task at hand, I feel it helped me, I felt relaxed and I savoured the moment”
After three tough rounds, Karolina Jaglowska had her hand raised in the centre of a ring in a stadium where Barry McGuigan, Michael, Carruth, Mick Dowling, Wayne Mc Cullough, Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, Bernard Dunne, Darren Sutherland and many more names have excelled.
“I remember sitting outside the ring afterwards, my phone was hopping while strangers came up to me and congratulate me. I was in a trance, my coach told me to go and wipe the blood off my face, but I didn’t care, I was so happy” she recalls proudly, showing me the medal that arks her amazing achievement.
From white collar boxer to Irish national champion in four years it certainly has been quite a journey.
“Continue training, continue striving to improve and be ready for the next fight…whenever it may come”
The fight is a metaphor for human struggle and for a true fighter the fight never ends.