World and European champion kickboxer Jodie Browne is no stranger to success on the world stage, but when she joins the rest of Team Ireland's athletes at the European Games (associated with the Olympics) next week the stakes will be higher than ever before.
Jodie has dreamed of wearing the rings since she was a child — inspired, she says, by Katie Taylor and The Karate Kid — but this is the first time kickboxing has received a spot in the games, which is considered a step toward full inclusion of the sport in the Olympics.
When asked in an exclusive Her Sport interview through Kickboxing Ireland about what it felt like to find out she'd be going to the games, the 20-year-old is overflowing.
"It was very emotional. It's been my dream since I was a child to even wear the rings, let alone represent my country, it's just crazy. We got our kit yesterday, our fighting kit and our rings and all, I was so emotional all day. Reading all the posts on Facebook and the comments of all the people... It's overwhelming."
Jodie will fly out to Krakow, Poland on Tuesday, June 20, to have a few days before her section (-70kg) is scheduled to start 4pm Friday, but she won't know who she'll face first until the draw midnight the night before — which is the way Jodie likes it.
"I'm not a fighter who likes to know who I'm fighting. I end up finding out, someone will end up telling me, but it's something I try to prolong, because the more I know the fighter, the more I overthink, the more I kind of get myself down and think about that fighter more than think about myself as a fighter."
To prepare for that first moment in the ring — and despite her string of successes, most recently winning all-weight grand champion at the International Point Fighting Cup in Milan — Jodie has been training harder than ever before.
"My training camp was longer than it has ever been, definitely harder, my weight is being more tracked...[I'm] much fitter, it's obviously the biggest competition in kickboxing history, so I want to be at my best abilities. Everything is heightened."
"I thought that I had trained for the WAKOs in such a high intensity, but this is just different. We're two weeks out now, and I'm tired, but I'm ready to go, I'd be happy to fly over tomorrow to be honest, it's just been such a long preparation."
"The thought of two more weeks of training is like, hell! I'm still excited to improve for the next two weeks, but it's a very tiring game and it's very hard to train at a top quality all the time. So I'm just excited to get over there...let all the nerves hit, and then get over the nerves."
Like many elite athletes, Jodie doesn't seem to want to be too confident before being put to the test, but when pressed admits she has a chance at winning.
"My section is really hard. My section is probably one of the hardest sections in the female categories, some of the opponents we're always like toss a coin and that's who'll win, but hopefully all my training pays off and I can perform better than they can on the day."
If it does come down to hard work and sheer willpower, Jodie should be optimistic about her chances. When asked what her strengths as a fighter are, she mentions cardio, but mostly she talks about persistence:
"I'd have a lot of dedication, I wouldn't miss training. It's not something I'd ever even contemplate...I'm always in my club, always in the gym. Definitely my dedication outshines other people, I think, my drive for the sport — I love the sport, so it's so easy to get up and go to training, go on the extra run, because I love what I'm doing."
As you'd expect of an elite kickboxer, Jodie is intensely competitive (even in board games, she admits), but she truly loves the sport and the community, not just the competitions, and that's what keeps her going through all those long hours of work.
"I love that feeling of feeling fit, and I love just being around all these lovely people in my club, Tallaght Martial Arts, the club that I train in, is just one big family. My coaches, Dave Heffernan and Martin Bannon, they're like dads to me (on top of my own dad, who's great!)."
Jodie's wider community is also behind her, and she says she's thankful for the support especially in the buildup to the European Games.
"Even my old secondary school, I went to Old Bawn Community School, they shared it on Facebook and made a little post for me. It's just nice to have such big support and the breadth of people is just huge at this point. It's unreal."
Win or lose, it'll all be over in a few weeks, and Jodie will take a well-deserved rest and enjoy a holiday in Turkey with her boyfriend and his family.
More uncertain is the sport's future. The past few years have seen it enjoy tremendous growth at both recreational and elite levels (it is also, for a combat sport, unusually evenly split between male and female participants). Now it's being considered for inclusion in the 2028 LA Olympics.
If it is, and if she's able to compete there, it would be nothing less than a dream come true for Jodie, even more than all her success so far; and yet she values just as much what she can do for the next generation.
"Kickboxing's an amazing sport, that's only recognized now, I feel like it should've been in the Olympics years ago. But even to get to the step it's at now, it's huge. I hope that I'm making history for the kids coming up as well, and if I don't make the Olympics in 2028, [to know] that I'm setting up for future generations, these kids in the club that I'm coaching, that it's their time to shine, even if I don't make it myself."
Jodie and eight other Team Ireland kickboxers (two women and six men) will compete across ten events from June 30-July 2.