In the Ring | Living North

In the Ring

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Calum French and Pat McCormack
Birtley boys Calum French and Pat McCormack will fly the flag for the North East in this year’s World Series of Boxing, which kicks off at Gateshead Leisure Centre on 16 February. It’s the British Lionhearts’ first UK competition outside London

A decade ago, GB Boxing was established to manage the Word Class Performance Programme for boxing, and to prepare and train British boxers for the Olympic Games. Two of the team’s brightest sparks from the North East are currently preparing with the amateur British Lionhearts for this year’s World Series of Boxing (WSB) – an amateur international boxing competition that allows professional boxers to maintain Olympic eligibility.

At just 22 years of age, Calum and Pat have travelled all around the world together for boxing competitions, visiting countries including Hungary and Kazakhstan. The boys actually met in the ring, explains Pat. ‘We boxed each other before we were even friends,’ he says, ‘and now we get on really well.’  

For both young boxers, their love of the sport really took off at Birtley Boxing Club under coach Graeme Rutherford, where they tried the sport out for the first time. ‘My dad used to box,’ says Pat, ‘so he took my twin brother Luke and I to Birtley to try it out when we were 11, and we loved it.’ It’s a similar story for Calum, who was obsessed with TV series The Contender in his childhood, and eventually persuaded his brother to take him to the local boxing club at the age of nine, after hours of play-fighting in the kitchen. By the age of 14, he’d already won the England Boxing National junior title. 

Pat and Calum now live in Sheffield, where they face a gruelling programme of daily training in the lead up to a big event like the WSB, which has rounds in Gateshead, Liverpool and Newport between February and April. ‘We wake up at seven and get weighed every morning,’ explains Calum, ‘and then we’re on the track by 7.45 for an aerobic or anaerobic run, which is either high-intensity or longer, slower exercise.’ The boys then rest before strength and conditioning and weightlifting, and a boxing session later in the afternoon. In the time that they do get off, they enjoy watching films on Netflix or playing Call of Duty on their Xbox, heading to a sauna, or exploring Sheffield. ‘We can’t stay out too late because of training the next day,’ explains Calum.

If you think that sounds intense, it’s nothing compared to the international training camp that the British Lionhearts recently completed in Colorado Springs. ‘The programme is made up of high-altitude training up in the mountains where there’s less oxygen,’ explains Calum, ‘which really pushes our boxing ability to its limit.’ Physically, Calum and Pat are in the best shape they could possibly be in for the World Series, so now it’s all about mentally blocking everything out and focusing on the job at hand. 

They both agree that a win against the Croatian Knights will be made easier by the fact that they’ll be competing in front of a home crowd in Gateshead – the Lionhearts’ first UK competition outside London. ‘Every man and his dog is coming down to watch,’ laughs Calum, ‘and my whole home town is really excited about it.’ For Pat, it’ll be the first time he’s boxed in the North East in three years. ‘I can’t wait to have all my friends and family in the crowd supporting me,’ he says. ‘It’ll be hard for my opponent to beat me when I’m trying to impress everyone.’ 

After the WSB, the aim is to head to Australia’s Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games in April. However, they both have their sights set on longer term goal – to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Pat’s biggest achievement to date was competing in Rio in 2016: ‘I was able to compete on the biggest platform possible, and I’d love to do that again,’ he says. Calum also flew over to Rio as part of the Athlete Ambition Programme which gave aspiring sportspeople hoping to compete in Tokyo an insider’s experience of the Games. ‘That was a real eye-opener,’ says Calum, ‘and it has really motivated me to achieve my Olympic dream.’

When we ask Pat and Calum what their favourite thing about boxing is, there’s no hesitation in their answer – ‘the winning.’ They explain that after putting their bodies through hell, nothing beats the feeling of having their hand raised in victory at the end of a match. With the WSB, the Commonwealth Games and Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, these two up-and-coming boxers plan on bagging as many wins as they can to reach the heights of their sporting heroes – Ukrainian boxer Vasyl Lomachenko, who was ranked as the world’s best active boxer in January 2018, and Floyd Mayweather.    

GET 25 PERCENT OFF TICKETS AND MEET GB'S BOXERS:

You and three friends can spend the day training with the GB boxing squad and their coaching team in this money-can't-buy opportunity.

To be automatically entered in the prize draw, all you need to do is buy at least one ticket to see the British Lionhearts in action using code BEINSPIRED via www.gbboxing.org.uk/tickets – which will give you an exclusive 25 percent discount.

You can use that discount to see the Lionhearts bid for glory in the World Series of Boxing against Croatia (Gateshead, 16 February), Italy (Liverpool, 2 March) or France (Newport, 14 April).

If you're randomly chosen as the prize winner, you and three friends will join the boxing stars at the high performance centre in Sheffield as they prepare for one of the matches.

Published in: February 2018

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