How Boxer Harry Garside Is Challenging Conventions and Knocking Out Stereotypes - Men's Health Magazine Australia

How Boxer Harry Garside Is Challenging Conventions and Knocking Out Stereotypes

As the Olympic bronze medallist gears up for his next fight, we sat down with him to discuss fighting, fashion and feeling good about yourself.

Harry Garside was howling. As he dropped to his haunches to digest the fact that he hadn’t made the Tokyo Olympic team, deep guttural noises exploded from within him. His Olympic dream was in tatters. Years of hard work had been dashed. It was easily the most challenging moment of Garside’s life. It was also, in its intensity and its purity, a uniquely beautiful one.

“I truly thought I wasn’t going to make it to the Olympics at that point,” says Garside, who’s speaking to me today from his home in Bondi, ahead of the launch of lululemon’s Your Move campaign. “It was the first time in my life I’ve ever howled. I cried like I couldn’t control it. In the moment, I hated every second of it and it hurt. It made me physically ill. It’s still contracting something in my chest right now thinking about it, but looking back, it’s so beautiful that we can feel that deeply and care that much about something. It was shit. It was hard. But I find even if something is negative, there’s always a bit of beauty in it.”

This nuanced, thoughtful and ultimately perceptive answer is typical of Garside, who after eventually making the Olympic team in 2021, went on to win the bronze medal. He’s now 3-0 as a pro and today looks lean and sharp, the odd bruise evidence of the intense training he’s doing in prep for his next fight against Miles Zalewski on September 15.

But it’s the heavy sparring Harry Garside’s been doing in challenging gender stereotypes and the uppercuts he’s beginning to land on outdated notions of masculinity in his sport and society more broadly, that’s quickly making the 25-year-old from Melbourne’s Lilydale one of the boldest and most refreshing young sportsmen in the country. The thing about Garside is that his passion and conviction don’t come from a place of anger or hurt. Rather they speak to his determination to be true to himself.

“If you’ve been portraying something to the world for so long, it’s really hard to showcase a different side of yourself, even if it is your true, authentic self,” Garside says. “Because when you start being a little bit different around the people you’ve grown up with or your family members, it can be very uncomfortable. It can be very terrifying, even isolating at times. But I think for me, over the last three or four years, the power of walking in your true essence and being exactly who you are, has been really magical. I wouldn’t say I know exactly who I am now, but I definitely know a lot more and feel more comfortable to show a lot more, compared to when I was a teenager. I’m definitely not there yet. I don’t fully understand myself. I’m very complex, very strange.”

Just like the rest of us, then. The difference is that at just 25, Harry Garside isn’t afraid to show the world his true colours. And unlike many of us, he doesn’t duck and weave from the consequences, either. 

MH: Can you tell us what you’ve done so far this morning? 

Harry Garside: I woke up, meditated and then I had boxing training. Just got back then and literally just finished my breakfast, my porridge.

How long did you meditate for?

This morning was 15 minutes. Fifteen is my minimum and then some days I’m up at about 20, but 15’s probably the average.

Is it mostly breath work or do you have a ritual that you follow?

Mine’s purely silent. I follow the app, The Waking Up by Sam Harris. He had a 50-day introduction course I did three years ago and he definitely taught me a lot about how to meditate. I follow a little bit of what he does, but what I do now is just silent. And then I always try and catch myself, scanning my body or listening to something, or the natural one of following your breath. Someone gave me this cool analogy: meditation is like clearing your email bank. I always notice when I meditate later in the day, my brain is on fire. When I meditate in the morning, because I haven’t digested too much information yet, it’s a lot more relaxed and I can scan my body a lot better.

Could just tell us a little bit about your childhood and how you got into boxing?

I was born and bred in Lilydale, the youngest of three boys, so end of the train line, everyone’s very working class. Dad’s a roof tiler. It was a very masculine environment. There wasn’t heaps of feminine energy around me growing up. I felt a little bit different to the males around me. They all seemed masculine, they seemed macho and I felt a little bit different, the exception to my two older brothers.

I don’t know if I was aware of it then, but I think subconsciously I started boxing to gain respect from my older brothers and my dad, as they were always fighting on the footy field or fighting with each other and doing more blokey stuff. I was more in touch with my mum’s energy. I felt a little bit isolated and disconnected from my brothers and my dad. I never really said anything, but it was just the feeling I had inside. I started boxing at the age of 9 in the hope of gaining their respect and I fell in love with the sport almost instantly.

Did you feel that you gained that respect from them?

Yeah, it’s interesting, because not many people were boxing in my area. The identity I was searching for was this macho, masculine man and I think because people have a preconceived idea of boxing, I got this tough guy identity pushed on me. It’s what I was searching for and I’m not going to lie, I loved it and still love it now. But at the same time, I definitely don’t feel like that on the inside. I feel a little bit more feminine compared to the men around me, but I’ve still got a lot of masculine traits inside me as well. I’ve just realised I’m very complex, just like every other human. But I’m finding it a lot easier now to showcase my feminine side while also being in a more masculine driven sport. 

Yes, you’ve obviously sought to challenge gender stereotypes. Where do you think that impulse comes from? 

There are two things. My mum is a medium, so she always been pretty spiritual. She went to a Rudolf Steiner school, very sort of free-flowing and she talks to dead people now. She always had crystals in the house or was burning incense. I think seeing that, I got a little bit more curious about my gender and then at the age of 16, The Reach Foundation entered my life. The Reach Foundation is a foundation for young people and they came to my school and through being involved with them, as a participant and then eventually as a crew member, I slowly but surely started to delve into myself and really started to understand the power of self-expression and understanding yourself and who you are. I loved the space they created for me. As a teenager you don’t really know who you are and they created a space where I could just fail, triumph, stumble, be someone I wanted to be, try something, be bold, be different. I loved that about Reach. I’m very grateful they entered my life.

You’ve described yourself as a mama’s boy and you’re a ballet-dancing boxer who paints his nails. Do you feel that by embracing all aspects of yourself, including your contradictions, you have found a degree of contentment or inner peace?

Absolutely. I’m very curious about myself and about the world. I find curiosity’s been a beautiful thing. Because I think when you’re curious, it takes away the judgment. Often, we’re so programmed and conditioned to live a certain way and we’re impacted a lot by our upbringing and our environment. I’m just really curious about myself and trying different things and realising that when I talk to people on a deep level, that we’re all so unique, special, different, crazy and I think that’s the most beautiful part of the human experience. That we are all that, not just one thing. I’ve found being really curious has helped me understand myself a bit more.

Well, you seem like a breath of fresh air in boxing. Is that how you feel? 

Yeah, in a sense. I’ve just been trying my best to break from the mould and march to the beat of my own drum. Some people in the boxing world will raise their eyebrows, some people will support me, some won’t and I’m okay with that. The reality is you’re not going to please everyone with what you do and I’m really grateful that I feel I have a lot more positivity than negativity. I think I’m pretty holistic with my approach to things and I love that. It’s interesting because in a group setting, I’ve noticed with my mates that they’ll be taking the piss out of me, but then one on one they’re like, “So, what meditation app do you use? What are you journalling about?” I think most people want to know and most people are really curious and want to feel more positive emotions than negative emotions.

I think we’re familiar with that group mentality, especially with guys.

Yeah, testosterone.

Well, I think you commented recently about online trolls and how that can hurt you more than a physical punch. How are you finding dealing with that kind of thing?

I’m in two minds about this. Because I genuinely want to impact the world in a positive way. It’s something that I really love about myself. Growing up with a dad, who I would say is more conservative, right wing, old fashioned, and then my mum, who’s super flowy, went to a Rudolf Steiner school and is a medium, so she’s very holistic and spiritual. They’re almost polar opposites and the beauty of that is that it’s given me the ability to hear both sides and understand that is no right or wrong way. There’s always an element of truth and care in what most people think. Of course, when it comes to online trolls and online debate, don’t get me wrong, the initial reaction is you get angry and you’re like, “Fuck you”.

“Say that to my face?”

Of course. But at the same time, I really want to start a conversation in a polite way, not so much one side or the other. I want to start a conversation and bring both sides together because I truly believe that although we may feel so separated, we’re so similar. It’s so divided right now. I really want to start the conversation in a good way, because I really do think I’m in the middle of any debate and I can see both sides. I don’t really fix myself to one side or one identity. It’s something that I’ve been trying to navigate lately because I do get a lot of trolls and then I get people commenting on my photo backing me up when people call me really derogatory terms. I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m creating a good space because it’s creating more division”, which is not what I’m intending to do. I’m intending to bring all of us together and just start a conversation and do it in a respectful way. 

Let’s move to the physical side of things. Once you qualified for Tokyo, what were your aspirations going in and did you exceed them?

I wanted the gold medal, so no. But at the same time, I did a lot of visualisation prior to the Olympics and I could always picture myself on the podium, but I could never picture myself in the middle. It’s almost like, did I fully believe that I could win a gold medal? I’m not sure. Looking back, there’s something to that. Did I really believe I could have won the gold medal?

Most people think ballet’s the opposite to boxing, but it’s obviously quite complementary with footwork and that kind of thing. How would you say that ballet improves your boxing and vice versa, does boxing improve your ballet?

Yeah, it’s a great question because if you really think about it, there’s so many similarities. I think any form of dance is so valuable for an athlete/human. Ballet has been really good with the power you generate through your legs. Dancers make it look so effortless and elegant but there’s tension in every muscle when you’re doing ballet. It’s transferring of the weight, remembering the steps, you’re thinking while you’re doing it and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s mentally draining as well, which boxing is too. In boxing, you’re constantly in a state of pressure. It’s a high-paced chess match. I’ve definitely noticed growth in my boxing since I started ballet.

What led you to start?

I’ve always wanted to do it. I was just really scared, with my upbringing, to say that I wanted to do dance when I was younger. I wanted to be more like my brothers. I already felt different. I started boxing and sort of kept it inside and finally built up the courage to start in 2019. I wish I’d started earlier. I’ve made a promise to myself that one day I’ll do a performance.

Oh, wow. That’ll be something. So, who or what would you say are your style and fashion inspirations?

Fashion’s an interesting one because I still shop at Kmart, you know what I mean? I’ve never purchased anything, besides a suit, that’s over 200 bucks. I just think my money can go to something better, but I do find beauty in it. I’m grateful that since the Olympics there’s been a lot of opportunities to explore my fashion sense. I’m a boy from Lilydale, so my fashion sense was quite basic. Being with my partner who’s into pretty weird and wonderful clothes has really helped. You see someone like a Harry Styles really challenging things. People often compare me to him. I wouldn’t say that I’m on his level, but I love everything he’s about, and I love people who can just express themselves how they see fit and just ask questions. I love that. I think that’s what he’s doing quite well.

Obviously we’ve seen the shot of you in a skirt. Was that the first time you’d done that?

I don’t know if it’s every male, but as a kid almost every holiday we went on as kids, I was with the girls dressing up, putting make-up on. I’ve always felt a lot more connected to females. I’ve always been able to get on with them a lot better and I always had a girl best friend growing up. I truly think life is like a bell curve. There’s super masculine energy and super feminine energy and I think there’s a lot more people that sit in the middle. It’s just they don’t have the freedom, space, courage, to really show, if they’re a female, their more masculine energy, or vice versa. I think that’s sad because I think we all have that inside of us. You see in the world right now when a male cries, everyone’s like, “Oh, my God, my God”. It’s like, it’s fucking normal. It’s really normal. It’s actually part of what we’re supposed to do as humans, is cry. My dad has been crying a lot more, and whenever he cries around the family everyone’s like, “Oh, my God”. Everyone’s making a big deal out of it and I’m like, “This is so normal”. Why does it matter? Why does it matter? It’s a beautiful thing. It’s just I think more people are in the middle, but we just don’t have the freedom to show that.

Okay finally, how are you feeling before your fight against Zalewski?

I feel good. My weight’s really good. I’ve got my last hard spar tomorrow, a 12-round spar, but after that I’ll be backing off, pretty much until the fight. It’s been great prep so far. It’s all about just making weight and making sure you get in there and do your job.

By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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