Josh Leather made it nine wins from nine fights by stopping Pal Olah in the second round of their Super Lightweight contest at Gateshead Leisure Centre last night.
After seeing Josh unleash a ferocious flurry of punches that forced the referee to intervene, you start to wonder just how far this gifted young athlete can go in the sport. Determination and dedication are essential for anyone wanting to be a success in the boxing ring—Josh has a huge amount of both. His training regime is almost brutal; and he is blessed with lightning speed and no little power, skills that are being refined and developed by a coaching team led by a very good friend of mine; Imran Naeem.
Well I say “very good friend”, but Imran certainly tested that friendship when he slightly altered a charity challenge of “training” with a professional boxer to “sparring” some eighteen months ago. In fairness, Imran did assure me that Josh wouldn’t hit me in the face... exactly forty-two seconds after the opening bell; he hit me in the face....
If he’d wanted to hit me sooner, he could have done—and there wouldn’t have been a thing I could have done about it. I never even saw the punch that stung my upper lip... nor the ones that hit me in the nose and the eye. I drove home that night grateful that my albeit wonky teeth were still intact, proud that I’d stepped into the ring and at least given it a go, and full of respect for Josh and the sport in which he excels.
I also know a couple of people who’ve trained and fought to raise money for charity—Ian Jones, a former cricket team mate, and Adam Rowe, a Liverpool comedian who I met at my second stand-up performance (I think it’s safe to say my attempt at boxing was funnier). To do it “for real” takes far more guts that I possess and they both have my absolute admiration... to do it for a living; well that’s something else altogether....
For all the talent, hard work, strength and desire in one corner, there’s exactly the same coming out from the opposite corner. The rewards for victory can be incredible, but the consequences of defeat can be far greater; so today I congratulate Josh and the rest of Team Leather on another notable success, I send my best wishes to Nick Blackwell who was hospitalised after his tenth round loss to Chris Eubank Jr., and I salute all those who have the courage to dedicate their lives to the “sweet science”.
56. Get my weight below 200lbs (14st 4lbs)
57. Meet a former school/college friend I haven't seen for over 30 years
59. Update my book about Coronation Street barmaids for free download
60. Be pictured with someone who has had a top ten single
61. Own a racehorse for a day
62. Arrange a face-to-face interview with an international athlete
63. Complete a second 12 hour solo darts marathon
64. Record a song
65. Play against an international sportsman or woman in their chosen sport
66. Take part in an event organised by the local Muslim community - to be chosen by my friends
67. Swim a mile
68. Play my first game of table tennis in thirty years (I used to be quite good... I used to be quite young!)
69. Go for coffee (or tea), cake and a chat with someone who everyone will know....
70. To be decided by my work colleagues!
71. Appear on television
72. Round off my stand-up comedy "career" with a third and final gig
It’s been fairly slow progress on the challenge front these past few weeks—mainly because much of my spare time has been spent on the preparations for May’s darts marathon.
Arrangements have been going well; a couple of special guests from the world of darts have been confirmed and there’s a possibility that local MP Anna Turley might be able to pop in as well. In addition, I’ve already been sent some fantastic prizes for the raffle/auction and have been promised two or three more. I’m genuinely amazed at the response I’ve received, and I will be doing everything I possibly can to make the event a success, not only to do justice to the organisations I’m supporting, but as a sincere thank you to everyone who’s been willing to get involved and help.
As with all the best laid plans, there’s always something that can throw a proverbial spanner in the works; and that came with the news that Grangetown’s Premier League netball squad will be involved in the end-of-season play-offs which have been moved from May 7 to avoid the Superleague final… and will now take place on May 14—yes, you’ve guessed it; the day of the marathon.
I must admit that when I finalised the date, I didn’t envisage there being a clash with the netball; especially as the regular season finished last Sunday. It’s disappointing, as I know most of the girls would have come along at some point during the day, but what is far more important is that they go down to Sheffield and perform how they did in Kent at the weekend—if they do, they will certainly be playing in Division 2 again next season.
The darts marathon is challenge no.63 and is the only fundraising event on the list. I am trying to raise money on behalf of the Jenny Wallwork Foundation (a mental health charity founded by Jenny, a former England and Great Britain badminton player) and Grangetown Netball Club and whilst I appreciate it’s relatively early days, if anyone would like to make a small donation, here is the link to my JustGiving page—anything you can give will make a difference. Thank you so much.
The remainder of the tasks are all about mental health awareness; and here is a brief(ish) update on some that are (or aren’t) progressing:
No.56: My weight has fluctuated a lot since the turn of the year. At the moment, I’m tipping the scales at 14st 13lbs; ten pounds away from my target. I am getting back into exercising and lost a few pounds last week. I’m heading in the right direction, but I also love chocolate.
No.57: I’ve been in touch with three friends from college for quite a time now; I’ve met Frances twice, but before this specific task was included within the list. Interestingly and unexpectedly, I’ve also made contact with a couple of people from my old school in the past few weeks. No firm plans as yet, but I’m pretty sure there’ll be a trip or two down memory lane at some point this year.
No.59: The Coronation Street book isn’t far away from being ready. The basic text has been completed, formatted and proof read, but I will need to check it thoroughly once (maybe twice) more before I can finalise the free download. I’m pretty happy with the book and hopefully a few of you will decide to have a read.
No.60: This is provisionally arranged for the first week in April. The singer in question had a top ten hit in the 1960s and shares my birthday—strictly speaking, I suppose, I share hers. Any ideas? Keeping fingers crossed.
No.64: I did make contact with a local recording studio. They sent me a message saying they might be able to help and could I send a few more details. I did… and I’ve heard nothing further! Maybe it’s a hint….
No.65: Looks like this one is arranged… more details to follow soon!
No.69: I haven’t ventured into the pool as yet, so this one’s a fair way from being ticked off; but we’ve got a new bath and I’ve already done a few lengths to get me back into the swing.
No.72: My stand-up farewell will take place in Newcastle upon Tyne on May 18 (at The Stand Comedy Club). It promises to be an evening filled with mirth and merriment… apart from the five minutes I’ve got to fill, of course. Hopefully one or two old friends will be in the audience to see my take my final bow. Just one more joke Richie… it’s what the fans want…
At the risk of banging what appears to be my one and only drum, I remain heavily involved in… and committed to raising awareness of mental health issues through my series of “challenges”. The fact that I have a condition called dysthymia—something I’ve lived with for probably the past forty years—is no great secret, but whilst it’s simple to give a list of symptoms, I’m not sure I’ve ever really conveyed just how it feels to have a form of depression. But I’m going to try….
Right from the outset, I want to point out that dysthymia, whilst chronic, is a relatively mild condition (you can use the word “illness” if you want; I just choose not to). What follows is therefore arguably the tip of the proverbial iceberg should you perhaps decide to contemplate the possible effects of (and the consequent daily struggles with) more serious depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anorexia or bulimia (nervosa)… and so the list continues.
Every morning, I wake feeling flat. Not some or most mornings… every morning.
I liken the feeling to having my head held tightly by a giant hand. On a “good” day, the hand is still there; the exact definition of “not so good” depends very much on how tightly the hand chooses to squeeze.
I readily accept I have no reason to feel low; I have a wonderful (understatement) wife, a loving family, plenty of friends, a nice home, good job, and reasonable health for an old bloke with dodgy hips. There will be some of you who can’t understand why I don’t spring out of bed and skip down the stairs every single morning (hips notwithstanding)… and to an extent I agree; but do you not think if it was easy, I’d have found that consistent daily waking rush of inner happiness at some point during the past four-and-a-bit decades?
Dysthymia does not necessarily give you the exaggerated highs and lows that may be seen in other conditions. It basically mirrors whatever your own personal definition of “normality” may be; it’s just that the reflection is always that much gloomier. But when you’ve known no different, then it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that because you essentially feel the same every day, then that is “normal”, and that being the case, you just “get on with it” because… well… that’s what everybody does.
From being in my teens, I would have times of unexplained, but profound sadness. The more it happened, the more I amended my definition of “normal” and just accepted the tears. Actually, I didn’t just accept them… I would almost go out of my way to encourage them. I wanted to cry… I needed to cry… and so I would find a quiet corner and think about literally anything (real or imaginary) that would make me keep crying until that hand finally loosened its grip.
Many years later, I finally recognised that the more extreme emotion (sometimes, but by no means always caused by a traumatic life episode) was not “normal”, but it still took quite a long time—and countless conversations with those who could see the outward signs that I refused to acknowledge—before I sought the help I so desperately needed. In the intervening years (more than a quarter of a century), I continued to experience irrational periods of desolation and the dark thoughts that always came along for the ride. I reached a point where the negative side of my personality was so dominant that I almost functioned “better” when I felt overwhelmed by sorrow.
My “normal” had shifted yet further. Dark thoughts had now become usual… compulsive… and occasionally genuinely compelling. Part of me knew something was wrong, but I simply wasn’t strong enough to fight, let alone overcome, my demons (if that’s the right word). In truth, the stronger part of me didn’t want to fight… I deserved to feel the way I did.
It was a potentially dangerous downward spiral and much as I tried, whether instinctively or deliberately, to hide what others may have perceived as weakness; those who cared most could see through the charade. Eventually, I crumbled… specifically from the pressure of trying to deal with a hugely traumatic series of events; and I had that single brief moment of objective clarity that enabled me to make the call to the doctor—and that, I suppose, was the first step to getting to where I am today.
I was originally diagnosed with depression, but the correct diagnosis should actually have been “double depression”. Whilst my underlying (and undetected) dysthymia was always present, but manageable; it was the second episode (on top of the pre-existing condition) that was a big enough change from the familiar to finally make me pick up the phone. The second layer of depression was treated (pretty successfully), but the dysthymia remained… because it was so much part of who I was (and am) that the specific symptoms were either lost in the extremes or not even raised for consideration.
That was in 2004; it’s 2016 now and in many respects I am a totally different person.
Meeting Elaine was undoubtedly the most important single course-changing moment of my life; and whilst my sleep remains disturbed by recurring bad dreams (some of which I’ve had for over thirty years) and subconscious memories of not-so-good times gone by, my waking hours are so much better because of the person with whom every single day starts and ends.
That said I still have dysthymia. I will always have dysthymia. It’s part of me and who I am, but the difference is it’s no longer in a totally negative way. The massive lows are rare, but can still happen (November 2011 and June 2015 were the last two); now though I recognise the signs and I know that the feelings will eventually pass. Yes I still have a low opinion of myself… I fear failure, and usually expect to fail, and as I mentioned right at the start, I continue to struggle with those feelings of “doom and gloom”—but as well as having the support of Elaine, my parents and other close family and friends, my “challenges” have undeniably taught me so much.
The list may not be the toughest tests or biggest adrenaline rushes in the world, but I have done things I never thought I would, or could. I have reached out and asked for help… and it’s been there—and I’m so grateful. If there is a moral to this blog, it would be to translate the previous sentence to relate to dealing with a mental health issue rather than planning a stand-up comedy routine (for example). I know just how much strength it takes simply to ask for help… but don’t ever underestimate the possible consequences….
I might not always look happy… in fairness I may not always feel happy; but deep down, I am happy… very happy indeed.
The Netball Europe Under-17 Championships are being held in Gibraltar between 4th and 6th March. As with the senior tournament that will take place in Newcastle during May, the squads are split into two sections, with the home nations contesting the main championship and the emerging countries competing in the “challenge section”.
The latter group comprises the hosts, Malta, Switzerland… and the Republic of Ireland; and obviously I am particularly interested to see how the Irish girls perform in what will almost certainly be the biggest tournament of their young careers.
Netball is not a “traditional” sport in the Republic and for the senior squad to have made enough progress on court to achieve a world ranking of 26 without any regular funding is a notable achievement. From having met and spoken with a number of the current squad, I am so impressed not only by the incredible dedication and determination it takes to be an elite athlete, but also the amount of work involved in raising funds for training, kit, and travel to the tournaments that are absolutely essential to continuing development.
Some of these players (as well as having full-time jobs, by the way…); are also involved in coaching those youngsters who will hopefully become the international stars of the future and the upcoming games in Gibraltar will be a test not only for the teenagers out on court, but also for the development process that Netball Ireland has worked so tirelessly to implement.
To compete in an international arena at such a young age is a wonderful opportunity. I’m sure there will be some nerves, but sometimes that can bring out the best in an athlete. What is for certain is that the girls will learn something about themselves as people as well as netballers; and the coaches will be able to reflect on individual and collective progress within the squad, as well as also directly comparing Ireland’s performances against other developing nations.
What is just as important however is that the girls make the most of the experience—and enjoy it. Clearly there is a serious side to sport (the higher the level the greater the intensity); but I can’t stress enough that sport is also supposed to be fun.
So in wishing the very best of luck to these twelve young Irish girls who will be representing their country over the weekend, I also hope that win, lose or draw, you have a fantastic time and an experience you will remember for many years to come….
I understand that the games will be streamed live via Netball Europe’s YouTube channel; and I’m also reliably informed this is the link:
Details of the full fixture schedule can be found on the Netball Europe website, but if you want to tune in and watch the Ireland squad in action, they play Gibraltar at 10am on Friday 4th March, Switzerland at 12pm on 5th, and finally Malta at the relatively unearthly hour of 9:30am on Sunday morning.
The middle of May is certainly shaping up to be a really exciting time.
On Saturday 14th, I’ll be spending the day at the Cleveland Inn (37 Cleveland Street, Normanby, Middlesbrough, TS6 0LX if you fancy dropping in) throwing darts on behalf of the Jenny Wallwork Foundation and Grangetown Netball Club. During the twelve hours—from 8am to 8pm—a couple of special guests will be popping in, there will be a free buffet, and a sporting raffle/auction. I’m aiming to reach a target of £500 from the day, but whatever is raised will be split evenly between the two organisations. It promises to be a lot of fun (for everyone except me!), and if you want more details of the event, or if you would like to make a small donation, please follow the link:
Then yesterday, I learned that the Netball Europe Open competition would be getting underway on Thursday 12th—in Newcastle upon Tyne...just fifty miles up the road. Whilst the home nations will compete in the main championships (in which I’ll be hoping for a really strong showing from the Scottish Thistles), there is also a challenge tournament featuring two groups of lower-ranked countries; and there, in Group B, are the Republic of Ireland, my “adopted” international netball side!
Even better is the fact that I’m off work on the Friday (even though it’s the 13th) and, at 3pm, Ireland will take to the court to face Grenada. It should be a close encounter with Ireland ranked no.26 in the world, just four places above Grenada and all being well, I will be in the crowd cheering on the girls! Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to catch up with the Ireland captain Níamh Murphy, who I met on a recent trip to Dublin, as well as Jan Hynes and Gen Slater who have both subsequently played for Grangetown in Division 2 of Netball’s national Premier League. In addition, I have spoken to Sacha Shipway and Trish Fanning on the phone (as part of a series of interviews with members of the Netball Ireland squad) and it would be lovely to finally meet them in person….
And if that wasn’t enough, the following Wednesday (aches and pains permitting), I’ll be heading back up to Newcastle to take to the stage at The Stand Comedy Club’s “Red Raw” evening. Now I fully appreciate that my dart throwing is likely to be considerably funnier than the five-minute stand-up routine that I shall attempt to deliver on the night, but my first experience of the club, the atmosphere and being amongst “proper” performers was fantastic and hopefully things will again go as well as my limited ability will allow.
Realistically, none of the above would be possible, had I not decided—back in January 2014—to commence a series of challenges with the underlying aim of raising awareness of mental health issues. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some memorable experiences and met some wonderful people over the past two-and-a-bit years, but at no point have I ever forgotten the reason why I started all this: the simple message that it’s fine to ask for help. It’s a big step… and an incredibly hard step; but it could just be the first step that ultimately leads to a better place.
Roll on May…!