DISABLED students are being given a confidence boost by taking part in boxing sessions with top coaches.
TRACY WALKER learned about the success of the sessions, being held at East Durham College, in Peterlee.
NOT many people can say they have been in the ring with a boxing pro and been the one to come off better.
But students at East Durham College’s foundation course can say just that.
And the feat is even more of an achievement as a lot of the students are either physically disabled or suffer from learning difficulties.
Bosses at the Peterlee-based college are singing the praises of boxercise classes being held for foundation course students by top coach Dave Binns, who is based at the college.
The students on the foundation programme, which provides them with life skills and aims to help them integrate into college life and society, have been given a helping hand in the boxing sessions by one of Dave’s proteges, unbeaten light middleweight pro Jonson McClumpha.
The young people suffer from a range of disabilities. But that has not put them off getting in the ring and sparring with McClumpha, an ex-East Durham College student who is being pursued by promoter Frank Maloney, who famously led Lennox Lewis to the top.
Naomi McCann, 18, from Wingate, has cerebral palsy, but is getting a lot out of taking part in the weekly sessions.
Foundation studies lecturer David Barrass said: “Naomi’s motor problems were really profound.
“But she’s actually throwing punches now – she’s come on amazingly.
“If you’d have asked a doctor if she could do that he would probably say no.
“But her reflexes have improved massively.”
Mr Barrass added that Naomi, along with a lot of the other students, now has “a bit of swagger” about her and her self-confidence has been boosted hugely.
“She’s quite comfortable sitting up there talking to the boxers now,” he said.
“There’s now a ‘nobody can push me around’ type of element.”
He revealed that Naomi even surprised McClumpha with a knock-out punch.
“With Naomi having cerebral palsy, it takes a while for her to get into the gym,” he said.
“But she hit Jonson with an upper-cut and bust his nose.
“He took it well though.”
Liam, 18, from Hartlepool, has got learning difficulties, but Mr Barrass says according to Dave Binns, one of the most highly qualified and respected coaches within the sport, he could have what it takes to “be quite useful in boxing” and could make it into a boxing academy.
Other students on the course include Jonathan Edgar, 18, from Peterlee, who has learning difficulties.
Mr Barrass says despite his tiny stature Jonathan is doing well with his boxing and has also gained heaps of confidence.
Jenny Weatherburn, a 20-year-old Down Syndrome sufferer who travels to the college from her home in Durham City, is also gaining in confidence after taking part.
Other students on the course suffer from autism and other learning difficulties, but are battling through their disabilities to get all they can from the sessions.
The group takes part in sparring, glove and pad work and learn to throw hooks, upper-cuts and jabs.
Mr Barrass, who approached Dave Binns to ask about something to give the students exercise and a chance to mix with other students, said: “It’s been remarkable the way they have improved.
“I have got a group of students who accept they are outsiders, in a way, at college. They come to college and all stick together.
“My job is to peel away the layers and get their confidence going and for me to actually see them participate in the first place is amazing.
“To go ahead and improve themselves and transfer their new skills into social integration means they are not frightened to mix with people, it’s great.”
Mr Barrass said Dave Binns says the classes are his favourite sessions of the week.
He added that Jonson, from Sunderland, grew up with an aunt and uncle who have special needs and said it was great that a pro boxer had given up his free time to help out.
Mr Barrass added: “A big thanks goes to Dave Binns and Jonson McClumpha who is prepared to get thumped every week.
“To be able to coach foundation students with disabilities and learning difficulties to complete a disciplined training regime is amazing.”
Dave Binns, who also has a leading role with the Tyne, Tees & Wear Amateur Boxing Association and England Amateur Boxing Association squads’ training programmes, said: “The students enjoyed our first session so much, they couldn’t wait to get back.
“They really surprised me.
“It’s really rewarding to see, the fact that the kids are enjoying it and getting something out of it.”