From her desk, Jessica Ashooh works as a policy analyst for the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But in the boxing ring, Ms Ashooh lets loose with her fists. For nine weeks, she is training like a professional boxer to prepare for her first big fight next month.
Q: You recently joined the "corporate contender" training programme at Haddins fitness centre in Abu Dhabi. How did you hear about it?
A: My co-worker, actually. He's a rugby player, so he does a lot of training and saw [a flyer], but his schedule didn't allow it. So I said "I'm going to do it."
Q: Why this and not some other after-hours activity?
A: I'm really an intense person and wanted something that was going to push me very, very hard. And I really liked the aggressive element of it, because in the Foreign Ministry, obviously, we're so diplomatic everyday and sometimes I think it gets very constraining, and it's really nice to be in a setting where you can be extraordinarily physical and animalistic.
Q: What's the training regimen like?
A: The first third is focused on conditioning, then building boxing technique. The final bit is about sparring and putting those skills into the ring … There's a focus on really basic exercises: running stairs in the tennis stadium; there's a bunch of sandbags in the corner that get thrown around; tractor tyres [to do] push-ups on.
Q: Whom do you compete against?
A: Everyone in the programme trains together. At this point, there's only two girls, so I have a pretty good idea of who I'm going to fight, which is kind of interesting, because you get to train with them. You get to know all of their weaknesses, and they get to know all of your weaknesses. So by the time fight night comes around, you are really familiar with each other, and it can be a very intense contest.
Q: What's it like getting hit?
A: It's a really edifying experience the first time you get hit, because then you know what it's all about. It's bad enough you don't want it to happen to you all the time, but you also realise this isn't so bad. It builds you up.
Q: It must still hurt though.
A: Mmm hmm.
Q: What do your colleagues think about this?
A: My boss actually inquired as to when the [regular boxing] classes are, so she may show up at one point, which may prove an awkward experience.
Q: Have you tried other things to beat stress?
A: I always liked to exercise on my own and go to the gym. But this is a lot better than that because it's working towards a goal. It really forces you to keep going because you've got that end point of the fight, and you know that if you've cheated along the way you're going to get your face bashed in.