A British mixed martial arts champion has revealed how she has battled a severe illness and cultural barriers to reach the top of her sport.
Ruqsana Begum told Sky Sports she won the British and European kickboxing and Muay Thai titles despite having chronic fatigue syndrome, known as ME.
The 31-year-old is heading to a Thailand training camp next week ahead of her kickboxing world title match in London in March.
Ruqsana said since being diagnosed in 2010, she has had to dramatically change her training regime.
The World Championship double bronze medallist said: “My coach spotted I had chronic fatigue.
“Some days I am on fire, no one can touch me while other days I cannot get my guard up.
“I have to manage it with shorter training, controlled lifestyle, not over exhausting myself.”
By day the London-based fighter is a part-time science technician at a school, combining work with a mixture of training, fighting around the world and teaching martial arts.
But the British Bangladeshi has faced challenges since taking up the sport as an 18-year-old university student.
Ruqsana revealed she kept her fighting classes secret from her family for years because she was worried about their reaction.
“I knew the constraints and restrictions of being an Asian female.
“Especially approaching my parents, I was quite frightened in asking if I can join classes.
“My coach kept saying ‘why don’t you become a fighter?’ I couldn’t explain to him why.
“I used to run back home after training as I could only do an hour - I told my parents I was going to the gym or for a run.
“My parents found out several years later, they had an inkling I am sure.”
“When I won my British title and got a bronze at the world championships, they knew I wasn’t messing around.
“But they would prefer me to do something less fierce!”
The British atom weight champion said women’s combat sport has been transformed by the success of female boxers like Nicola Adams in the London Olympics in 2012.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t find a female instructor and there were not many females who joined a gym.
“Now many females do a combat sport to stay lean.
“Putting women’s boxing in the Olympics has changed attitudes.
“Fighters like Mary Kom from India are so inspiring, it has shaped people’s views.”
But Ruqsana remains one of the few Asian females competing in mixed martial arts.
She believes female fighters need to be given more credit to attract more ethnic minorities to the sport.
“In other countries like Russia and France female athletes are treated like footballers here.
“We should be given credit that other athletes are given, that kind of platform.
“If my niece wanted to do a combat sport, I would be scared to pieces but it’s their choice and freedom.”
She added: “There’s definitely a need for attracting women to participate in sport, break down barriers to create community cohesion.
“To show that [doing sport] does not compromise your religious beliefs.”