Harmanbir Brar (G22) is a Master of Finance student at Churchill College and is also part of the Cambridge Boxing Blues squad. He was born and raised in Punjab, India and moved to Canada 14 years ago. Following high school Harmanbir studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo, before moving to Madrid, Spain for a year for his MBA.

Harmanbir chose Churchill on the recommendation of a Master of Finance student in the graduating class of 2022, who named the College as one of his top three picks. Harmanbir was also attracted by the College’s facilities and proximity to the University Sports Centre because of his intention to join the Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club.

Harmandir was first inspired to start boxing for two very different reasons. Firstly, he grew up playing football and found that team sports presented too many variables he couldn’t control. Training as part of the Cambridge Boxing Blues Squad, technique and fitness is down to him, allowing more variables to be under his control. Secondly, Harmanbir is a Sikh and notes that the religion has its roots in guerrilla warfare or fighting; ‘There is a Sikh regiment in the Indian army and my great grandfather served in the British Indian army – I always wanted to go back to my roots in combat form, and I found my match in boxing!’

As Harmanbir explains, the level of commitment required to participate in the Cambridge Boxing Blues squad is significant and happens in stages. Following trials in October, he was selected for the 40-person squad and required to train for 8-10 hours, 5-6 days per week. The squad was then whittled down to 25 individuals, 7 women and 18 men in different weight categories. They were invited to attend the January training camp where they trained 3 times a day, 2 hours at a time, for 6 days. It was a particularly challenging experience for Harmanbir because he pulled his left hamstring on Day 2 of the camp. However, he kept going with limited movement. Finally, he heard he was one of the 14 fighters (3 women and 11 men) selected to compete in the Town v Gown event in the 60 kg weight category – his first amateur boxing bout. Although he didn’t win, it was extremely close with the fight going the full distance of 3 rounds and he very much enjoyed the experience.

The College has provided Harmanbir with financial support in the form of a University Sports Grant which covers the cost of CUABC membership fees together with any equipment and other expenses incurred, but the support isn’t only financial. ‘I am a student with no income, so every little bit helps and also provides psychological motivation to keep going.’

Reflecting on his success in the blues squad, Harmanbir is clear about the significant role the College facilities have played.

‘The running track here is second to none. The gym is great not only for lifting weights, but it also has a punching bag and a rowing machine – which I had to use when I couldn’t run due to a hamstring injury. And one of the most critical things overlooked at times – the excellent kitchen at Bondi House. A boxer’s diet is heavily influenced by their weight management regime, and our kitchen’s baking oven has allowed me to stay within my target weight range.’

Harmanbir also greatly enjoys the community at the College and the interactions with others from diverse backgrounds. His on-site accommodation houses eight students and their communal kitchen provides an ideal spot for socialising. ‘We are all studying different subjects and focused on different activities which is why it is so enriching to learn from one another.’ He has even picked up some cooking ideas from one of his housemates that have become part of his diet regimen. The College has also inspired him to develop new ideas and expand his thinking in different directions! For example, he learned about the College’s goal to install solar panels after he was accepted. This prompted him to think about ESG and the World Bank’s 2022 East Asia and Pacific Ideathon4Climate Change Competition. He captained the winning team that year!