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Joe Calzaghe

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Boxing Changed My Life

Posted: 25/02/2014 17:40

The idea that success comes more easily to some than others, has always made me laugh. Anybody who has reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession has had to work hard for it and you can be sure that somewhere along the line they felt like quitting.

I know this because I've been there. I was the kid from a council estate in South Wales who went on to become a two weight world champion. I had 46 professional fights and I never lost. But that wasn't down to some god given talent or good fortune. I trained like a champion from the age of nine. It was hard, brutal at times, but I knew that boxing was my salvation. I know that sounds a little corny but it's the truth.

I grew up in a tough area. My family had very little money and there were very few opportunities for youngsters back then. It was 1972 remember - I'm older than I look! There were no video games and consoles. You either ended up stealing things and getting into trouble or you got on the right path.

Many of my friends ended up in jail and that could easily have been me but thankfully my Dad bought me a punchbag for Christmas one year and the rest is history.

For me though boxing wasn't just a physical pursuit, something to keep me occupied. Despite the fact I was an ABA champion before most people can tie their shoelaces I was being bullied at school, verbally more than physically, and was struggling to understand myself. As a young boy you take these things to heart and it made me feel rubbish. I became very introverted and didn't have any self-worth.

Boxing became a form of escapism. The discipline and focus began to strengthen my mental resolve. Slowly I learnt to respect myself and to respect others. The friendships I have made through boxing will last forever and I will always be grateful for that.

The sport gave me a life that I would never have had as well as providing me with some unforgettable memories.

I'm not embarrassed to talk about my past. In fact it's something I try to pass on to kids I meet now. That's why I was so keen to be involved with The Supporters Club and its support for charities such as Street Games. The Supporters Club is BT Sport's charitable initiative, it uses the power of sport to change the young lives of those facing some pretty tough challenges. It believes all young people should have access to sport and I wholeheartedly agree.

It is about the change that sport can bring to these young people, teaching them values such as teamwork, discipline and fairness.

The statistics show that kids growing up in high earning households are twice as likely to have these opportunities compared to those from low income families. That just cannot be right. The Supporters Club has given a grant to the charity Street Games to help them continue their amazing work in bringing sport to youngsters everywhere - and this deserves huge praise.

I witnessed first-hand the joy local sport can bring to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Kids that could almost be me if you rewound the clock 30 odd years. I met some of the youngsters who train at St Joseph's gym in an area of Newport that has, like so many parts of the UK, had its fair share of challenges. The gym is part of the Street Games network; it aims to help youngsters back into education and employment through sport as well as providing somewhere they can go anytime to let off some steam.

The youngsters and club ended up coming to my gym and despite it being five years since I stepped through the ropes - I made the bold decision to allow the kids a few potshots at a former world champion!

My dad Enzo, a brilliant trainer who guided me every step of the way, played referee as some pretty handy young boys and girls tried to knock my head off! I've got to say it was great fun and slowly the old footwork was coming back! They all did fantastically well but two kids in particular caught my eye: Ben and Jerry - they should go into business together!

I wanted to know more about their lives and hear about what boxing had done for them. Both had been bullied at school; Ben's dad, a former boxer himself, spoke passionately about the change in Ben through sport.

This is the very essence of what The Supporters Club is all about: using sport to give youngster more confidence in other areas of their life

It's certainly something I relate to and it was quite emotional for me to hear about their journey. Maybe it struck more of a chord than I realised at the time. I just hope I was able to help them in some small way by opening up about my own problems.

The last thing Jerry said to me was "sparring with the great Joe Calzaghe was the best day of my life". That's a pretty humbling thing to hear and I can honestly say it was a special day for me too.

Watch the documentary and see behind the scenes footage and interviews here

 

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