APPROXIMATELY two metres into his nerve-shredding 170-metre descent down Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower, former British welterweight champion Ashley Theophane started screaming. Terrified of heights, yet determined to complete the abseil last weekend (July 10) that has so far raised over £7,500 for Ringside Charitable Trust, Theophane’s fear grabbed hold.
“I’ve got to get down,” he kept repeating to himself.
His terror was something I could relate to. Approximately an hour before Ashley faced his fears, I too crawled down the tower. To say it was a horrific experience would be an understatement; it was the worst 15 minutes of my entire life. Stepping out onto a plank and then into the abyss was the stuff of nightmares. Looking down was not an option.
“That’s it, you’ve done the worst bit,” said the instructor as I dangled anxiously and listened to how I was supposed to get down. But the worst bit was to come. After what felt like hours of slowly edging down the tower, and gripping the rope so tightly my arms burned, I glanced over my shoulder to see how close the ground was. To my utter dismay I realised that the end of my ordeal was still further away than the start. At that moment I thought I was going to pass out. Then I almost burst into tears.
Down on the ground, light-heavyweight Joel McIntyre felt euphoric. Prior to his abseil he insisted he wasn’t nervous before retracting that fearlessness as he stepped into thin air at the top. “This is horrible,” he said before spectacularly embracing the challenge. On occasion he released the rope with both hands to wave at the crowd below as he bounced down the tower like Spiderman.
The organiser of the event was Andrew Fairley, a ferocious supporter of the charity that is raising money to open a residential home for ex-boxers. The natural-born thrill-seeker, who staged a boxers’ sky dive for the charity in 2019, was the first to complete the abseil that had been seven months in the making.
“It went brilliantly,” Fairley told Boxing News. “We hit our [£7,000] target and that’s the most important thing. A lot of people were very nervous but everyone smashed it.
“The most gratifying thing was seeing Dave Harris, the founder of Ringside Charitable Trust, so happy and proud of what we were doing.”
For Fairley, and everyone who took part, the vision that Harris has for his charity and the determination he exhibits is a huge source of inspiration. Like Harris, Fairley has witnessed the boxing afterlife at its worst.
“As soon as I read about the charity for the first time in Boxing News I knew I had to help. I know ex-boxers who are struggling badly and their plight epitomises why this is so important.
“We know that boxing is a brutal sport but, unlike other sports, there is nothing in place to provide care to those who need it when they’ve retired. The most sickening thing about that is the amount of money that is in the sport at the top level.
“However hard it may appear, I know that the home will become a reality. We’re essentially building it from grass roots and history shows that enterprises that are built from nothing go on to achieve the biggest success. One day the promoters who are ignoring the charity will realise how wrong they were to not offer their help.”
Harris’ letters and emails to the UK’s major promoters, telling them about the one charity designed to help ex-boxers in need, have not yet been replied to. But plans for the home progress regardless, with potential sites being viewed for the proposed 36-bed facility.
“I’ve got to get down,” Theophane said to himself again. “I’m f**king scared… Face your fears… You are doing this to help the ex-boxers who fall on hard times. You are doing this for charity. Come on, Ash, you’ve got to get down.”
Theophane, whose descent can be viewed on his Twitter page, eventually touched down. So too did Fairley, McIntyre, Tony Oakey, Ross Minter, Jeff Ofori, Lucy Wildheart, Seb Emery, Lea Jackson, Dale Fletcher, Larry Richards, Martin Theobald, Leanne Harriot, Bailey Donald, Lea Jackson, Jumaance Camero and myself.
The biggest hero remains young Sophie Gallagher, a passionate boxing fan who is courageously battling the effects of autoimmune disease. Eager to help, but unable to abseil for health reasons, Sophie decided to walk the equivalent 162-mile distance from her home to the Spinnaker Tower. In the end, after several all-weather walks, she travelled an incredible 307 miles. Promoter Eddie Hearn has promised to pledge £1,000 in sponsorship to Sophie.
“You’re all heroes,” Harris said of Sophie and the abseilers. “With that sort of spirit the home will soon be a reality.”
Thanks to everyone who has donated already. For those who would like to, please visit: https://uk.gofundme.com/f/boxers-spinnaker-tower-abseil.