‘Boxing has saved me because I got very down ... boxing gave me that will to move forward’ – Heart of Hayling Academy co-founder Knox White

It's impossible not to take inspiration from Knox White's sheer resilience, determination and drive to continue doing what he loves despite the struggles he continually faces.

By Lewis Mason
Sunday, 11th July 2021, 4:55 pm
Knox White with the trophy and Heart of Hayling Boxing Club members after they had won the Club of the Year award in the annual Havant Borough Council Sports Awards.
Knox White with the trophy and Heart of Hayling Boxing Club members after they had won the Club of the Year award in the annual Havant Borough Council Sports Awards.

Both he and friend Mark Coates - a teacher at nearby Hayling College - came together to become co-founders of Heart of Hayling Boxing Academy three years ago.

Ever since, White has been a regular presence coaching hundreds of youngsters who turn out every Wednesday at Hayling Island Community Centre to hone their boxing skills and work towards qualifications through the sport.

Taking on up to four classes every week is a challenge in itself, but this inspirational HoH co-founder has to fight a daily battle of his own away from the academy.

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Knox White at the launch of the Heart of Hayling Boxing Club, funded by the island's Lions club, in 2018. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Eastney-based White, a former petty officer physical training instructor in the Navy, was medically discharged from the forces in 2004 and was then diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis just a month later.

Undeterred and showing his self-confessed 'stubbornness', he set up his own roofing company after leaving the navy and, when he was no longer able to carry on doing that, White reverted to working on a building firm.

However, as the MS - a condition which can affect the brain and spinal cord and can cause serious disability - gradually got worse, the 47-year-old was forced off site.

Sadly, White is now wheelchair-bound but he says it's his love for boxing and the launch of Heart of Hayling that helps him temporarily sideline the reality of his condition; instead, he can just watch youngsters thrive and flourish in a gym environment

Knox White with former Pompey defender Christian Burgess, January 2020

He said: 'This is the thing with it, because of this disease of mine and I’m on secondary progressive, it’s only really going one way.

‘Boxing has saved me because I got very down myself, life wasn’t looking very good - it’s still not looking very good - but boxing gave me that will to move forward.

‘I’ve got the discipline to move forward.

‘If I’ve had a really tough morning, the last thing I feel like doing is going over Hayling Island and taking boxing until 8 o’clock at night, but because of the discipline I have through boxing and when I get there I know I’m going to see non-stop smiles everywhere.

Knox White with two Heart of Hayling boxers

‘As much as I give to boxing, it gives so much to me.

‘I get to park it, I get to sideline it (MS) for a little bit.

‘My drive for helping and being there for ... it’s not just the young people who are disadvantaged, the ladies' session is always buzzing, they love it, they’re so grateful.'

Since launching in 2018, White estimates Heart of Hayling have had more than 600 people on the academy's cards in that period.

Prior to being set up, the island had seen a rise in anti-social behaviour among youths and there was an inactive boxing scene with the closure of Hayling Amateur Boxing Club years previous.

Learning of the struggles and lack of activities for the local community, White wanted to make a change.

So, he came together with Coates - his daughter's former teacher at Hayling College - and the pair thrashed out some ideas over a pint.

From that informal meeting, HoH has grown to become a massive part of the community - and White says it's great for kids, teenagers and adults to have the facility.

‘It’s just got such a great feeling, the way we run things and because we’re not a competitive club and we’re an academy, it’s got a touch of a family feel about it,' said White.

‘The team of coaches are so dedicated and they’re so caring. Some of these young people - we get messages all the time from parents saying their child had lost their way and they look forward to your boxing. We’ve had three or four young people join up - I’m sure we’ve had two to the navy, one to the RAF and one to the Marines.

‘We offer a bit more than just the Boxing Awards Programme, we kind of mentor these young people as well.

'We help them, we offer a different pathway; ultimately, you can’t make choices for these young people, but you can offer them options and say there is a different way you can go about it.

‘It’s not all doom and gloom and head down, they can be what they want to be - we offer that encouragement and support.

‘We’re (myself and Mark) both quite passionate about some people having something to do rather than having people hang around parks and street corners.

‘I’ve got this belief about sport being a saviour. It’s all about installing that confidence, that pro-social culture within them.'

While not coaching at Heart of Hayling, White can also be seen helping out at Q Shillingford's Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy.

Determined not to let his condition weigh him down, he trains every morning - and sometimes rises at 6am for a gym session.

The inspirational White is also currently working towards a PhD on aspects such as pro-social behaviour through boxing at the University of Portsmouth.

He revealed when his MS prevented him from doing the 'physical stuff' he had all his life, it was time to 'go back to school'.

Now he is in year two of three working towards his PhD. White said: ‘Because I’m stubborn, which is probably the only reason I’m keeping going and doing all this stuff, when I got discharged and diagnosed about four weeks later - thankfully the Navy took that into account and took some responsibility.

‘When I was diagnosed I thought, ‘right, what’s the most ridiculous thing I could do,’ so I set up a roofing company. In the end it was getting a bit too dangerous so I had a roofing and building company and carried on with the building firm.

‘It got to the point where MS was taking more and more of me, it got to the point where - because I’ve only ever done physical stuff throughout my life, - I couldn’t even dig a hole any more for money, so I went back to school.

‘I worked with young disadvantaged people, set up a workshop, and basically I taught young people how to carve and stuff like that.

‘My PhD is in the implementation of certain aspects like pro-social behaviour through boxing coaching at the University of Portsmouth.

‘I’m quite busy with that but, obviously, the pandemic has affected that. The boxing gyms have been closed so I haven’t been able to conduct research on certain aspects.

‘I’m pressing on with that. I’m just now doing a PhD so I conduct research to see if it justifies whether it’s feasible for these kind of attributes to be passed through boxing coaching.'