Amputee from Leigh Park says new Portsmouth mental health boxing group 'saved him'

AN INSPIRATIONAL amputee whose life spiralled out of control after losing his leg as a teenager has today revealed how joining a new boxing club ‘saved him’ from certain death.

Monday, 26th April 2021, 9:26 am
Matt Edwards working on some pad drills with Johny Byng. Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-109)

Matt Edwards was just 19 when he suffered catastrophic injuries to his left leg during a motorcycle crash in 2017 – just days before Christmas.

Waking up from a coma after four days, the Leigh Park lad was left horrified by his stump and struggled to cope with his new disability.

The trauma was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for the teenager, who had been sleeping rough and sofa surfing since leaving the family home at 16.

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Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, gets busy on the punching bags. Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-184)

In a desperate attempt to numb the pain, he turned to drink and drugs and was eventually sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

After hitting rock bottom, Matt was inspired by a friend to join the Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy, in Somers Town.

It was here that he was introduced to Boxing for the Brain, a scheme helping people battle back from mental health and addiction – in a move which he said saved his life.

‘This has made a lot of difference in my life, without boxing I probably wouldn’t be here today,’ said Matt.

Pictured is: Quinton 'Q' Shillingford MBE Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-213)

‘It’s cured most of my depression. My life is perfect now, I’m more content now than I ever have been. I love it. I love my life.’

Matt is speaking out about his inspirational journey of recovery as Boxing for the Brain prepares to relaunch this week.

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The scheme had initially been set up last year but the coronavirus outbreak stunted organisers’ plans.

Suganthan 'Sugs' Vetharajah, who helped found the Boxing for the Brain scheme. Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-214)

Now, with lockdown measures finally starting to ease, the group is preparing to open back up – with Matt at the helm as one of its mental health boxing tutors.

Running on a Friday evening at Heart of Portsmouth’s HQ at the Omega Centre, in Omega Street, the group offers those with mental health issues a chance to train – and talk about their experiences.

‘When I lost my leg I felt that I lost myself. I didn’t want to fight to get through it all,’ added Matt.

‘But this has helped me get back on my feet. Since being able to throw a punch I feel like it’s cured me.’

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan, left, with Craig Withey, Matt Edwards, Johny Byng, Sugs, Warren Avery, and Q Shillingford Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-205)

The club was the brainchild of mental health tutor Suganthan ‘Sug’ Vetharajahm, Quinton 'Q’ Shillingford, Heart of Portsmouth’s boss, and boxer John Byng.

Sug, who himself has struggled with mental health, said he wanted to do something to transform the lives of others.

He added: ‘We’re trying to create a haven for those that are suffering with mental health problems and drug addictions.

‘Absolutely everyone has suffered in some form with their mental health. So doing some sports and activity definitely boosts those endorphins and gives you those good feelings.

‘We here at Boxing for the Brain have suffered from mental health problems and we want to be there for those who have suffered in the same way.’

The programme teaches people the basics of non-contact boxing, working on pad drills, punching technique and footwork.

Pictured is: Matt Edwards Picture: Keith Woodland (120420-218)

As well as offering recognised industry awards to mark their progress, people also get the chance to train as coaches to help others with their skills.

Royal Navy veteran and boxing champion Quinton said: ‘This is about opening up the session for people who are struggling with mental health and need someone to talk to.

‘They can come down, do an activity with like-minded people and they don’t have to get hit.’

The new scheme has been championed by Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, who last week visited the site.

The shadow armed forces minister said: ‘I’m really worried that the next pandemic will be a mental health pandemic. When you talk to any local health trust, they say that is a real risk.

‘So we have got to make sure we invest in sport and well-being. And this is such a brilliant project, helping people with not only their physical health but their mental health too.’

Boxing for the Brain begins this Friday, from 6pm until 7pm followed by a chat session afterwards.

For details, email [email protected]

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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