Train. Like. A. Pro. These four words have come to carry such an incredible weight and respect in the community of Aylesbury, as the brand spreads like wildfire, growing by the second and touching the lives of so many. Train Like A Pro is white collar boxing at its finest, taking everyday people looking for a unique fitness challenge and training them over a course of ten weeks to think, fight and move like a boxer with a team of amazing coaches and support to hand the entire journey.
I was privileged to train with Steven Cook, twice world kick-boxing champion, during training for the November 2014 TLAP. It’s safe to say that I was certainly put through my paces, with my heart pounding, my pulse thudding in my eardrums and my limbs turning to jelly in the ring. The adrenaline and energy that it takes to sustain a fight is phenomenal, and I don’t think anything can quite prepare you for it no matter how fit or healthy you may be.
What really strikes me about TLAP is the passion and heart from each of the fighters involved. They’re not in it to have a punch-up with a rival or to gain an inflated ego, but quite the opposite; the fighters have set themselves the ultimate challenge, to break themselves down, strip away their faults and flaws and rebuild their body, mind and spirits from ground zero up.
I train six days a week in order to keep my mind focused and my stamina and strength at its peak, and one thing that I really love about fitness is hitting the wall and reaching that point when you think you’re going to collapse and give in, before smashing through it, gritting your teeth, going harder and reaching the finish line. It is the most indescribable feeling to be able to push your limits and achieve something you never thought possible, and it goes to show that we are all incredibly capable and blessed with our health and ability.
Stepping into Stoke Mandeville Stadium I had a real ‘wow’ moment when I first saw the ring, it dominated the venue which was packed to capacity with over a thousand eager spectators. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and made my skin tingle as heroic fight music bellowed out to every corner of the room, flames flickering along the length of the fighters gangway and film cameras and press waiting eagerly to catch their every move.
The stadium was heaving with people and the atmosphere was absolutely electric, the sound of cheers, chanting, clapping, stamping and whistles muffled the senses and slowed everything down, from within the blinding bright lights around the ring, the entire room exploded as the first fighter stepped in.
How sick they must have felt waiting in the wings, pumping themselves up, preparing for the crowd and entering into a boxing match must be the most petrifying feeling. From sweaty palms to trembling legs, feeling sick and needing the toilet. When fight or flight kicks in the body’s response makes the difference between winning and losing. Fighting in the ring is a million miles away from training at the gym, and nerves is certainly the last thing that you need.
I was very fortunate to have been asked to photograph the event, which meant that I had a ringside perch the entire night and became totally consumed by the atmosphere and adrenaline of the fighters. I felt nervous for them, I winced with each punch and thud, and jumped out of the way many times when bodies were flung against the ropes or slammed to the floor.
My heart went out to them all, as their blood splashed across my arms and their faces and torsos were splattered bright red. I felt guilty for taking their photos as they were smacked about, but then I noticed the strangest thing, despite the blood, sweat and tears everybody was smiling.
Because you see, Train Like A Pro is an incredibly positive and rewarding experience, not only within the final performance that you see on the stage, but every second leading up to it from the moment the application sheet is signed ten weeks before. Each fighter chooses a charitable cause and raises sponsorship to make a difference to those in need. The fighters not only workout and lose incredible amounts of weight, transforming their bodies, appearance and outlook on life, but they build a strong bond as a family. A family of like-minded individuals who extend a hand to one another and help each other up, growing together and fuelling success.
The training has the biggest impact on the fighters health, with many finding the courage and determination to quit smoking, give up drinking and turn their lives around in relationships and career choices. TLAP gives an individual self worth, self confidence and the tools to achieve success. You can never understand how capable and strong you are until you’re prepared to push yourself to the limits.
As the perilous bell deafens the stadium with the mark of each round, the fighters touch gloves, glaring into one another’s eyes, focused, driven and poised to attack. Punches, blocks, guards and footsteps cover every inch and angle of the ring, with the coaches screaming from besides the ropes, banging their fists on the floor, waving their arms and barking orders “Keep your guard up!” “Get closer” “Go in for it!”
The stadium is a sea of people, lost in a blanket of darkness below the illuminated ring, surrounded by live-streaming screens and cameramen, and mobile phones flashing like stars, snapping pictures, taking videos and filling social media with each fighters personal progress the second that it happens. With the relief of the sharp clang of the bell to mark the end of each round, the fighters retreated to their corners.
The coaches hold their head up, wipe away the blood and sweat and press a bottle of cool water to their lips. Rubbing their shoulders, pepping them up to keep going and holding their hands; it’s clear to see the love and dedication that a coach has for their fighter, much like a lioness protecting her cub.
And when the bell sounds for the next round to begin, each three sets of ninety seconds to explode, react and drive forward, the fighters return renewed, determined and ferocious despite the tremendous physical trauma they have just endured. Bloodied noses, bruised faces and swollen lips, wiped swiftly away by the coaches towel and back into the ring for some more. If the same had happened at home it would be immediate bed rest, painkillers and bandages, but in the ring the humble human is transformed into a machine. Each has their own motive to winning their match, whether it be pride, self belief or to justify their charitable sponsorship. Each is a winner simply for taking part.
It’s unbelievable to see the variety of fighters involved, both men and women, large and slight, tall and short, old and young. Sex, race, gender, religion and politics are refreshingly left at the door, and each man and woman enters the ring as themselves, and for themselves.
Whether they choose to burst in all guns blazing and risk burning out or to pace themselves and dance around whilst keeping a strong guard, every second is calculated, considered and the adrenaline tangible. Regardless of the result each and every fighter is a champion in their own right. For making that brave leap into training, to dedicate their time and energy to hitting the metal whilst others are curled up on their sofas at home, and to have the guts to step into the ring in front of family, friends and the local public is nothing short of inspirational.
I would like to personally congratulate every competitor for being a part of such an amazing event. I’d also like to thank the organisers for appointing me as their photographer, and I hope that my images have gone some way to capture the pure magic of the night, the blood, sweat, tears and dedication in the heart of each fighter. And as each match is called and the winner announced, it is the most beautifully humbling experience to see the two competitors then hug it out and say thank you, regardless of the result.
At the start of the evening I took to the door to sell raffle tickets for a local 4yr old girl called Esme who is sadly living with Rett Syndrome, a cripplingly degenerative brain condition. I thanked each and every person who entered the raffle, telling them about Esme’s plight and giving them information sheets and wristbands from the charity. The raffle was announced on stage at the end of the night and £342.00 collected for the charity.
Train Like A Pro has been such a phenomenally positive and rewarding event for the community of Aylesbury, not only is it to thank for turning thirty-two everyday people into champions before our eyes, but it has shown us all that we are undeniably capable of reaching our goals in life no matter what they are, because you get back what you put in. Each of the fighters have raised sponsorship for charity totally over £12,000 to date and helped a great expanse of people and good causes. The event has employed bar staff, bouncers, caterers and contributors as well as providing the years biggest sporting event in the area.
We can all learn from the passion and guts of everybody involved and take a smidgen of this away with us into our everyday life, being conscious to try harder, keep our chins up and help others throughout our journey in life. Congratulations to you all and a massive pat on the back to the organisers for building the pride of a community.