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Vice president Wilborn celebrates power of community for club goals

| Monday, November 8, 2021

Emily “Book Hook” Wilborn, the current vice president of the Baraka Bouts club, is not the first of the Wilborn family to box at Notre Dame.

Four years ago, her brother roped her into it as a first-year and she has been involved ever since.

“My older brother was a captain,” Wilborn said. “He was a fifth-year student my freshman year. And he had said that he thought it might be something that I’d be interested in doing. My mom was really big on us spending time together during our one year both at Notre Dame, so that was kind of a good compromise, a way for us to hang out.”

But that’s not the only reason Wilborn stayed, though. The first reason she stayed was the relationships she made upon joining the club, she said.

“I was incredibly lucky to meet so many amazing people that were both leaders in the club and other first-years like me,” Wilborn said. “I sort of built this little group — now some of my best friends are from boxing. Those relationships have just made all the difference in my life at Notre Dame and are really why I stick around.”

Wilborn also cited great respect for the mission she became a part of as the other factor that kept her involved. And it quickly became her main reason to continue participating in the club: Wilborn said she wanted to do it all for the students in Holy Cross schools in Uganda.

“I understand how it’s so easy to feel disconnected from it because we are thousands of miles away, or maybe because you’re so focused on training and learning how to box [that] you forget why we’re doing it,” Wilborn said. “But for me, I really try to push myself and remind myself we’re here for the students and they’re why we do this, they’re why we spend so many hours not just training — but also organizing the season as captains and encouraging people to fundraise and sending emails and asking everyone we know to donate. Those students are why we do everything.”

In order to fight for this mission, Wilborn has taken it upon herself to push boundaries when it comes to fundraising, without discouraging supportive boxers along the way.

“We’ve seen some insane growth over the last few years of the club. So, you want to continue that and to keep pushing,” Wilborn said. “In the last years, we’ve had this goal of $75,000. Sometimes it looks so easy when we reach it, but you want to push that and still make it an achievable goal. So, continuing to push the club and say ‘No, I know we can do better. I know we can raise more money’ — but also making sure that we achieve those goals and are still getting as many people invested in the club as possible.”

Keeping people involved builds a teamwork mentality. According to Wilborn, this makes both fundraising goals and boxing goals that much easier to achieve. When she’s in the ring, Wilborn said, she just wants to display her skill level after four years. Especially since the tournament spent one of those years on hiatus due to COVID-19.

“I just want to go out and show that I’m a four-year boxer. I’ve put in the time and I’ve been working towards this since freshman year. Hopefully, when the time comes into the ring, I can deliver on that,” she said. “But at the end of the day, you hug your opponent. We’re teammates first and foremost, and then we’re competitors. And that, more than anything, means a lot to me.”

Wilborn said the relationships she has made and maintained through the four years reassure her the club will be in good hands when she, club president Erin Fennessy and the rest of the seniors leave the team.

But Wilborn wasn’t always comfortable with the task of leading this team, she said. At the start of their tenure, she and fellow captain Abby Leone felt daunted by the lofty fundraising goal. Wilborn recalled leaving a meeting with the head of Holy Cross Missions on campus and feeling slightly overwhelmed. It was in those moments, she said, having the entire team helped.

“There’s that moment where I just stopped and we had to be like, ‘Okay, we’re not doing this alone,’” Wilborn said. “You know, within captains when there’s all this stuff that we have to organize, we always remind each other, ‘Hey, you’re not doing this alone. If there’s too much on your plate between training, doing your job and being a student, tell us. Somebody else will take this off your plate and help you.’ And it’s that same mentality. I think it’s so easy as 10 captains to feel like it’s just 10 of us fundraising, but it’s really 200 of us in the club. And I think we need that reminder sometimes to not get overwhelmed and remember that we’re not doing this alone.”

Not only are there 190 more women — the men’s captains help out and the alumnae are very reliable, Wilborn said.

Because this is her fourth of five years on campus as a mechanical engineering and industrial design student, Wilborn will not have a lead role next year. Still, she knows she won’t be done with Baraka Bouts.

“We have years of previous members of the club supporting us and who still believe in our mission,” she said. “That doesn’t stop when you graduate. You keep believing in that mission even afterwards.”

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is a junior American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and is Sports Department Editor at The Observer.

Contact Mannion