In this week’s episode, we hear the story of former Olympic boxer, Tony Jeffries.
Tony grew up as a “tall, skinny, freckled kid” in Sunderland. One of his first challenges was dealing with a pair of bullies who were picking on him at school: “Every day I’m at school, these two kids are calling us names… I didn’t want to go to school.” After his mum discovered Tony crying one day, she alerted his father to what had been going on and he had a very specific piece of advice for his son: “Dad said you’re gonna punch the bully in the face as hard as you can, I thought, I’m not doing that!” However, he says that, because his dad had insisted on it “if I didn’t do it, I’d feel like a coward”. And so the next time he was picked on, he did exactly as his dad had suggested: “From that moment on, I didn’t get bullied again.”
Tony’s journey towards boxing was influenced by his dad in other ways too: “My dad wasn’t a role model but he forced me to go to boxing… I wanted to play with my mates outside and have fun … but my dad said if you don’t go boxing, you’re not going out.” Tony, therefore, was forced to go to the gym and put in the rounds, his dad said to him quite simply “You’ll thank us one day.”
Tony’s efforts eventually brought him to the attention of Terry Edwards, who ran the Olympic Boxing training programme. Tony describes Terry as “the most successful amateur boxing trainer we’ve ever had”. However, on a personal level, the situation between the two was less than rosy “I couldn’t stand him, he couldn’t stand me. We didn’t have a good relationship.”
Nevertheless, the two worked together and Tony found himself on the brink of qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Despite an initial loss which threatened his place, he fought back by defeating a fancied American fighter in Chicago, he then defeated a Belorussian and officially qualified for the Olympic team. Tony describes this achievement as “the single best moment of my life.”
Tony went on to win bronze at the Olympics after an exhausting fight against a Hungarian knock-out artist. The first thing he thought of was what his father had said: “You’ll thank us one day”. Tony handed the medal to his father and said “that’s yours, without you, I wouldn’t have it”. Years later, Tony looks back at that moment and says “winning that Olympic medal beats anything, anything at all”.
Due to subsequent injuries, Tony had to retire from boxing just four years later. It was something that he initially struggled to handle: “I put on weight, I got depressed, I was in a really dark place… it was a tough thing to overcome.” But, eventually, Tony was able to discover a new project to put his energy into. He’s now a boxing trainer and he’s able to help others discover the talent and develop the ability that once served him so well.
If you’d like to learn more about Tony Jeffries, go to www.tonyjeffries.com