“Honestly, the balloons will be worth it I promise!”.
Not a sentence I saw myself saying repeatedly this year, each time with more and more (slightly exasperated) conviction. As I held up two balloon weights in slightly varying shades of silver, willing myself to suddenly grow a large amount of interior design flare, it dawned on me that we’d spent almost 5 months of our spare time trying to organise an event people actually paid for.
SUABC recently celebrated 10 years of being an established club, and to mark the occasion the founder and former president of the club, Avoen Perryman teamed up with longstanding member, fellow former president and general boxing-boff, Ryan Thornhill to hatch the brain child that was the SUABC’s 10th Anniversary Charity Dinner. Ryan’s involvement meant I was signed up without much of a chance to politely decline, whilst there’s not much we can do together without falling out, it turns out a large charity event slides into that category quite nicely.
For those of you who aren’t boxing with us this year and don’t know who I am, I’ve happily lurked on the outside of the club for almost 3 years as Ryan’s ball and chain, pointedly avoiding commitment and responsibility. Following the sadly undramatic (and no doubt temporary) exit of Ryan from the club’s committee to enter the world of work, I was drafted into under a role title that eludes I don’t do much. I am the ‘club’s liaison officer’, which apparently translates almost directly to ‘the club’s lias…mum… the club’s mum’. This has now kind of moulded into me taking up the role of charity representative within the club.
Over the past year particularly, SUABC has settled into supporting two charities that mean a lot within our club. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has been a cause close to Ryan and mine’s hearts, with Ryan’s cousin, Aaron suffering from CF and fronting the campaign ‘Fighting to Breathe’ as he navigates the unchartered territory of being a pro MMA fighter with the disease. Raising awareness was an aim of both of ours when we began both our personal fundraising and club fundraising, a key example of unawareness was a message I received from a club member when we started to advertise the dinner.
Jez messaged me about buying a ticket and followed this up with ‘so does the money go to the CF trust?’. Perhaps I’m a bit (lot) of a cynic, but my mind jumped to a hugely over-reactive negative outcome (absolutely no discredit to Jez, he’s lovely!!), which was that Jez didn’t agree with the money going to the trust and he was about to tell me so. Of all the possible responses I ran through having sent a slightly too curt ‘yes! And our other charity CLASP... why??’, I didn’t expect him to reply with ‘that’s really cool, I’ve got CF’. It hadn’t crossed my mind, not even slightly. We get fed statistics about diseases like CF, and I’ll happily admit I don’t always take them in. I live in my bubble a lot of the time, and it just showed me that whilst I was supporting the trust for Aaron, thousands of other people are supporting it for their Aarons, and some of them are Aaron themselves. The trust provide support in countless ways to people suffering with CF, and those who are trying to help someone they love through CF. There is no cure for CF, but thanks to research funded by the trust, the life expectancy of someone with the disease is constantly on the up. They are fighting for a life unlimited by CF and offer boundless help and guidance for those going through it directly or indirectly.
Our second charity is CLASP (Counselling, Life Advice and Suicide Prevention). CLASP is a small, but rapidly growing mental health charity, pushing to end the stigma around mental health and encouraging those struggling to walk out of the darkness. I use the word ‘We’ here tentatively - boxing is a male dominated sport, it is a fact rather than a sweeping statement and I personally have not been affected by some of the things I go on to talk about, for the undeniable fact that I am a woman. Instead I have spoken to people who have been in the sport almost a lifetime, and on top of this have given what I consider my perspective as an observer, and as someone people come to.
In boxing we are punched, occasionally in the face, at times in the stomach and undoubtedly in the mental health. Whilst your team support you, train with you and stand with you, they do not get into that ring with you. Boxing is physically draining, but also emotionally draining. It is quite literally battered into you, that you must look strong, and unhurt. You must walk away from fights lost without breaking down, and you’re expected to come back after every blow working harder.
The guys that move through boxing and grow up with the sport will tell you how much discipline it taught them, how they learnt to control their anger, but it didn’t teach them that it was okay to talk about how things were impacting their mental wellbeing. How many training montages have you seen where it cuts from an arty shot of someone skipping dramatically, to a sweat covered fighter facing up to a punch bag, to… a guy, sat on his own, in his house, crying? You don’t see them. If you google ‘boxer’, aside from the odd dog picture – the image results you get are men. Men that have been told from the start they have to be tough. Talking about your mental health, doesn’t make you any less tough, and its high time people accepted this. I have had the pleasure of working alongside some incredibly strong people, male and female, in boxing, but there is still a strong reluctance to talk about the fact you might not actually be alright.
University is for some people, the most stressful time of their lives, team that with thinking you look ‘soft’ for reaching out and you’ve entered a sport with a reputation for being full of ‘tough people’. It’s not okay, but people think this and we a so desperate to change that. I entered this club from the outside, having watched for a little while and coming from a very different competitive sporting background. This is hands-down the most welcoming and blindly supportive atmosphere I’ve ever been in, in and out of sport. We are actively fighting to break the stigma around our sport, and CLASP offer such a fantastic and useable service as well as an understanding that we, even as a club, struggle with talking about mental health.
In the run up to our event, I spoke to the CEO of CLASP, Kenny. He was so open with me, and so happy to help us organise the dinner and just an all-round lovely person to talk to. Kenny founded the charity having attempted to take his own life on multiple occasions following a serious battle with his mental health. Spurred on by his own ordeal, Kenny has set about helping those struggling, including calling on banks to helps those in financial crisis sooner. CLASP provide several channels of advice and help, it’s easily accessible via their website and helplines. If anyone is struggling, I cannot recommend the help CLASP provides enough.
With our charities in mind, and an upcoming birthday, it was decided a sit-down fancy pants dinner was the way to do this. However, we wanted to raise the bar for our fundraising and thus came the idea for a charity auction and a raffle. Easier said than done. My spare room has been full of signed boxing memorabilia for longer than I’d care to admit in the run up to this event, but none of that came particularly painlessly. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank profusely everyone that gave the time of day to us asking for signatures on things and letting us post gloves to people and generally being a pain in the backside. These were people that almost certainly had better things to be doing that answering my twitter dms. I’d also like to thank Cai Bradley, a former (and still hiiighly dedicated member) of SUABC for hooking us up via his ‘contacts’ to gain all kinds of signed goods that would have been completely inaccessible without him. If it wasn’t for Cai and Ryan running around the place like maniacs for weeks, the auction wouldn’t have happened, and it also wouldn’t have raised over £600. I’d like to thank everyone that donated to the raffle too, we had a lot of very happy raffle winners and it made me very proud to live amongst such generosity in Swansea.
Picture the scene, it’s November the 10th 2018 and we’re at The Dragon Hotel, Swansea (in the Pembrey suite if we’re getting specific). Having just spent 2 hours dressing the room with a glamorous assistant (no, not Ryan) we have then gotten black tie ready (including hair wash) in 37 minutes. A cool 70 people are downstairs looking very smart (no active wear in sight) are sipping Buck’s fizz and mingling (!!!!), whilst I’m fairly red in the face and looking like I need a stiff G&T (not student prices however, so I got a pint). Ryan is hiding his stress well at this point, having arranged nigh on everything from the hotel itself to the speech he wrote last week and refused to read to me in case I correct his Northern grammar.
People take their seats and I guess it begins? It literally goes off without a hitch. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. It has taught me that Ryan’s meticulous planning and my insistence on balloon centre pieces does actually pay off. People had fun, and honestly that’s all I could have asked for. Avoen spoke about our club’s history and reminded us all that what we have now we do take for granted, but a lot of sweat and tears went into making our club what it is today. Having so many alumni come back and celebrate with us, is a stark reminder of how much our club means to people and how much people enjoyed their time here. I was also thrilled to have so many fresh (pardon the pun) faces there, to show the alumni that the club is still getting bigger every year.
We raised over £1500 to be split between the charities, which is more than we could have ever imagined. I am so grateful to everyone that helped make our evening a success, from the new club members that paid (real money!) to come, to those that travelled cross country to celebrate with us and of course, Ryan for his non-stop effort and childlike enthusiasm the whole way through the process. I think a small lie down in a dark room is required before we contemplate our next fundraising event, but it certainly won’t be the last from us.