“I was crying, but just with pure joy. The national anthem comes on – the flag gets raised above you and it’s very emotional. I mean, you watch people on TV do that, but when you’re there yourself, it’s almost surreal…”
Those are the words of Melton’s Iman Barlow, a Thai Boxing powerhouse who won gold this summer in the 2022 World Games – an event organised every four years, with the support of the International Olympic Committee.
The 29-year-old travelled to Birmingham, Alabama to represent the UK in the 57kg women’s division, beating off tough competition in the final from the USA’s Tierra Brandt.
It’s a win which she describes as one of the best of her career so far.
“She [Tierra] had the home crowd with her, all of her teammates, and obviously I didn’t have that, so she had more of an advantage, even though I had the experience,” said Iman, who has been practicing Thai Boxing for the past 20 years.
“It was a really tough fight. I lost the first round and won the next two, but my determination to win saw me through,” she added. “I never want to give up, so I think that definitely came in handy!”
Iman has a string of European and World titles under her belt, and has been fighting competitively since she was just eight-years-old.
Her Dad runs Assasins Muay Thai in Melton, and both her Mum and brother have also been involved in competitive Thai Boxing.
“It’s kind of a family affair. It was in my blood from an early age,” she explained.
“When I was younger, my Dad would be teaching and my Mum would be training down at the gym. Instead of getting a babysitter, I just used to sit in the corner and play with my toys!
“Before long I just started copying and joining in! That’s how it all started really…”
Iman, nicknamed ‘The Pretty Killer,’ says that taking up Thai Boxing has shaped her into the person that she is today. She is keen to encourage others to take up physical activity in order to reap the same rewards.
“I think I would have been quite a shy girl if I didn’t do Thai Boxing,” she told Pukaar. “It’s definitely changed my life. It keeps me fit and strong and gives me more confidence, whilst also helping me to tackle day to day problems.
“Doing sport, it just helps you become a strong person I think, mentally and physically,” she added.
“Even if you’re not doing it competitively, it’s about keeping active and finding something to do so you’re not just going to work all day, coming home and sitting in front of the TV, which is so easily done.”
Reflecting on her World Games win, Iman spoke of her immense pride at representing her country, which is “the greatest honour,” she says.
As for what’s next for the sporting star, she revealed that winning a ‘One Championship’ World Title would be a “dream come true.”
“One Championship are Asia’s largest martial arts organisation – a platform which has millions of followers, so I think that’s what’s on the horizon next for me,“ she said.
As for her legacy, she said: “I would like to be remembered as the best UK female fighter there ever was.
“I want to achieve everything I know I can and carry on to develop and grow as a fighter and a person.
“One day, I want to look back and know that I couldn’t have done anything more.”
To follow Iman’s Thai Boxing journey, visit: www.instagram.com/prettykiller3