Feb. 18, 2009 — -- Sarah Blewden, a 25-year-old British model and hair salon owner, insists her breasts should not stand in the way of her competing as an amateur boxer.
She suffered a blow to her ambitions when the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) recently told her she would be unable to register because of her breast implants. Their international regulations say that repeated blows to her chest could be dangerous, possibly knocking the implants out of shape and damaging her breast tissue.
"If I had great, ginormous, double-F breasts it would be different," said Blewden, who has pleaded with the medical certification team to allow her to wear a breast protector, just as men wear groin guards for their testicles.
Blewden, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said she had gel implants to boost her budding modeling career in 2003. She enlarged her breasts from a 32B to a C cup, which she says enabled her to do some topless shots. Later, she turned to boxing to keep fit.
The svelte, shapely blonde said she has been accused of taking up boxing to "do sexy shots," but she is adamant that it is the sport itself that exhilarates her.
"This isn't about that, it's about boxing," she told ABCNews.com. "I'm not trying to get my five minutes of fame. I just want to try to see if there is any way they can approve breast protectors. You look at the medical stats of women in the last year and all you see are three grazes on the cheek. It's safer than horseback riding and skiing."
Her claim is backed by the USA Boxing Web, which states that "study after study indicates Olympic-style boxing is among the safest of the contact sports."
"If you compare, this just isn't fair," she said.
Dr. Julius Few, director of the Few Institute for plastic surgery in Chicago, said the rule against boxing and implants is "theoretical at best." He has treated patients for injuries in both horseback riding and skiing and said, implants are "incredibly rugged."
"In those contact sports, women have taken a fall and landed on their chest and the hit has not been a problem," he told ABCNews.com. "The risk is greater if someone is in a car accident with a restraining seat belt."
But, Few cautioned, "Most board certified experts would agree that it's something that hasn't been studied and it's kind of an optional activity, better to err on the side of safety."
Women's boxing is booming in Britain with about 30,000 amateurs, according to the ABAE, which was upset with media coverage of the issue in British newspapers this week.
"We are trying to have a positive spin on the Olympics," said Rebecca Gibson, national women's boxing development manager for the ABAE. "It's a shame and an unfortunate situation."
Women Boxers: Equal, But Safe
Gibson said that women's boxing is still not recognized as an Olympic sport and ABAE officials were hoping to be included at the London 2012 games. Their successful national team has jumped from 50 to 500 registered female boxers since 2005 and recently won a silver medal in China.
"We have a big, big push for this and it's really just bad timing when we are pushing for equality, but we also want to make sure that people are safe," she said.
Blewden's love of the sport began with Thai boxing -- "which is a lot more brutal," she said.
By last year, she was smitten with the sport and took up training with an English middle-weight boxer who was then a private trainer and who encouraged her to join the ABAE.
But when she filled out the medical application, her dreams were dashed.
"I sat down and to have a read-through and got really excited," Blewden told ABCNews.com. "Until I read females are automatically disqualified with breast implants. I absolutely cannot explain how much I love boxing. I cried all weekend."
Her coaches told her she could still train, but, countered Blewden, "it's like learning to be a hairdresser and not ever cutting hair."
"Thai boxing is more brutal and I did it four to six hours a week and I've never had an issue," she said. "I've had punches and kicks before."
But Anthony Attwood, the chairman of ABAE's medical commission, said Blewden has likely has never been injured because she has never competed. And, he said, no breast protectors have been developed -- even by professional boxers -- that have proven to be effective.
"As a plastic surgeon I think that logically it is a sensible rule," he said of the international medical regulations, though he admits risk of rupture is more likely with liquid, rather than gel implants.
Attwood said Blewden had contacted him after she learned she could not obtain an amateur boxing medical record card.
"I have no idea how good she may be," Attwood, told ABCNews.com. "My first surprise was that she had apparently been selected for 'advanced training' when all she has done is basic fitness training and boxing exercise and has had no competitions. That is extraordinarily unusual."
Can Mimic Breast Cancer
The problem, according to Attwood, is fat necrosis, which can occur with repeated trauma to the breast. That condition can be dangerous, because it can mimic breast cancer on mammograms and on examination.
"If there is a lump in the breast, the girl needs to have it investigated and often a needle biopsy is used," he said. "Even with radiological guidance there is a risk of the needle going into the implant and damaging it. In that case another operation is required to replace it."
If that biopsy in inconclusive, the lump can get bigger and the problem is compounded, and surgery -- with more risks -- may be required.
"If it really is just fat necrosis but if the lump was an early cancer then the delay in really finding out could be disastrous," Attwood said.
Repeated trauma can also cause scar tissue and make implants go hard in a condition called capsular contracture. That can also trigger the "vicious cycle" of fat necrosis, he said.
"For these reasons I think it unwise for girls to box when they have breast implants present, but I do not make the rules," he said.
As for fat necrosis, Blewden said, "That can happen whether or not you've had implants. There is not real health risk if you compare with a hit around the head. ... If I suffer capsular contracture and need to pay for corrective surgery, then that is my decision."
Initially her husband, a brick-layer, objected to her boxing, worried that she'd suffer "fat lips and things like that," she said, but now he is supportive of her passion for the sport.
Her trainer Mark Plunkett, told the Bournemouth News Service, that Blewden "is very talented at boxing. She wants to box at a very high standard and is desperate to go to the Olympics."
Blewden hopes the publicity will help her find a breast protector that the ABAE will approve.
"Women haven't been allowed to box for that long and this is an obstacle I want to get over so other women like me won't have the same problem," she said.
Blewden admits she's busy, with her recent marriage, raising a 5-year-old, side work as a make-up artist and running her beauty salon and the rigorous eight hours a week of boxing training. But the fight is worth it.
"For me personally, I've got such a hectic life," she said. "When I am boxing, it's like nothing else in the world. The world stops. It's almost like pressing 'mute' on the TV. I just love it and wish I could give up my job and box every day."