From Watford to Olympic gold: Joshua on the importance of being a role model (From Watford Observer)
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From Watford to Olympic gold: Anthony Joshua on turning his life around and the importance of being a role model
Anyone at the top of their profession could arguably be considered a ‘role model’ to those in their chosen field but when it comes to people who can genuinely inspire a generation of young people, they are fewer and further between.
For many teenagers, they leave school without a sense of purpose and without something positive to occupy their free time, which can often lead to trouble.
Anthony Joshua was one of those.
Growing up on the Meriden Estate in Watford, the former Lea Farm School and Kings Langley School pupil wanted to hang around with his friends, which would often occur at the Meriden Community Centre or in Watford town centre near McDonalds.
The 24-year-old was an impressive athlete when he was young - he was the 100m record holder for his school and his district growing up as well as playing football for Garston Boys between his mid-teens.
Joshua was trying to achieve a music degree and at comfortably over 6ft, was handy when working on a building site.
But like a lot of kids growing up with too much time on his hands, Joshua often ended up getting into trouble.
By his own admission, the ‘big and loud’ character was heading down the wrong path.
Joshua was living with his auntie in Watford at the time but at the age of 17 he decided to move to Golders Green with his mum in the hope that it would help him stay out of trouble.
He still had too much time on his hands so he decided to join his cousin Ben Ileyemi and go to Finchley Boxing Club. That was when his life changed forever.
Joshua dedicated himself to the ring and went on to lift the super heavyweight gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics – unbelievably just five years after he took up the sport.
In four years, Joshua went from a Watford teenager with no direction in his life to Olympic champion with boxing promoters offering him vast sums of money to turn professional with their company.
For some sportsmen, they see their profession as just a job and shy away from the tag ‘role model’ or talking about their chequered past. Not Joshua.
He explained: “I 100 per cent know I need to be a role model because there are a lot of kids out there looking at my past and where I am now and asking themselves, what route do I want to go down?
“If they can see the positives I received from boxing then it provides them with the incentive to do well.
“I don’t want to necessarily add pressure to myself but I do know the responsibilities of being a champion and I am happy to carry them.”
He expanded further by saying: “For a lot of kids in Watford, they don’t have a lot to do with their time and my achievements have shown that you should try to invest your time into something positive. For example my little brother is playing a lot of football and it is about trying to find something constructive to do with your time.
“If you invest enough time into something constructive then you can make a success of yourself. It is not only about what you do when playing your sport, it is about what you do outside of that.
“It comes down to your work ethic. If you want to be successful, you have to put in the work.
“I thought I could get what I wanted via the easy route and that was the wrong mentality and that is why I thought the world was against me. Now I know what it takes to achieve my goals and my dreams.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Joshua after he walked into the gym.
While he dedicated himself to the sport and became national senior ABA champion in 2010, his road to stardom could have been over less than a year later.
In March 2011, Joshua was arrested for possession of cannabis with intent to supply. He admits he saw an ‘opportunity’ and didn’t think of the consequences.
The initial consequence was a 12-month community order and 100 hours unpaid work. But, arguably more damaging for the young boxer was his suspension by Great Britain’s boxing squad which subsequently resulted in a loss of funding.
By his own admission, he brought shame on his mother, family and the Joshua name.
He said: “At the time I wasn’t doing too bad in the sport so for that to happen, it gave me the realisation that boxing could be taken away from me and then it was a case of one or the other; either I knuckle down to make my dreams become a reality or I keep going down this path and keep getting into trouble.
“That was when I realised it is one or the other and I wanted to knuckle down and make this work.”
The Amateur Boxing Association of England allowed Joshua to continue boxing after a hearing. The drinking and partying stopped and following another ABA title that summer, a silver at the World Championship the following year and then gold at London 2012, Joshua has now been tipped to become heavyweight champion of the world.
Having the ‘gold ticket’ opens doors in professional boxing but Joshua vehemently dismissed the suggestion that it puts him under more pressure.
He said: “I have high expectations of myself and that is where the pressure comes from.
“Even if I didn’t do well in the Olympics, I would still have had pressure on myself because I want to do well in everything I do and that is where the pressure comes from.”
Joshua started his pro career with a first-round knock-out at the O2 Arena in London earlier this month and tomorrow (Saturday) he takes on experienced campaigner Paul Butlin as part of the undercard for Kell Brook’s IBF Welterweight world title eliminator against Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko, which will take place in Brook’s home town of Sheffield.
But when asked if he was looking forward to fighting without the pressure of being the headline act, Joshua replied: “No. I will still treat it like I am the headliner because there is still the pressure to win and still the pressure to perform well.”
Joshua’s first opponent as a professional was Emanuele Leo; an Italian who whilst being unbeaten before the October 5 bout, had only taken part in eight professional fights despite being 32 years old.
Butlin on the other hand has been a pro for more than a decade and the 37-year-old has fought the likes of former IBO Cruiserweight champion Jonathan Banks, world title challenger and European belt holder Dereck Chisora and Paolo Vidoz, who is a former Olympic bronze medalist. Butlin may have lost 19 of his 33 professional bouts but he has vast experience having fought in Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Italy and Denmark.
Joshua said: “He is definitely a step up from Leo. I think he has told the Daily Sport that he can beat me so it should be good. It will be entertaining.”
The 24-year-old’s third professional bout will be on Thursday, November 14 when Joshua headlines a night of boxing at York Hall in Bethnal Green, against a yet unannounced opponent.
The evening will include a Britain versus USA Prizefighter International Heavyweight event where three-weight World champion James Toney will be one of the competitors.
Olympic success doesn’t always transfer into the professional ranks – gold medalist Audley Harrison has shown that – but Joshua has the determination and dedication to succeed.
His life was heading in a different direction as his teenage years came to an end, but Joshua has learned from his mistakes and turned his life around. He is an inspiration to young people. A role model.
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