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Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards 2017: "Sports award made me proud as punch"

Cross community boxing club founder Terry McCorran was KO'd by accolade he won at SONI 2016.

By Stephanie Bell

It was a passion for helping others which saw our 2016 Spirit of Sport Award winner Terry McCorran set up a boxing club with virtually no equipment and no money 11 years ago.

Now the thriving City of Belfast Boxing Academy, which straddles the peaceline in east Belfast, has a constant waiting list and is renowned for uniting people of all ages, religious backgrounds and nationalities.

Blind to prejudice, Terry has fostered a spirit of discipline and mutual respect among everyone he coaches at his club, regardless of their background or ability and has managed to bridge the divide at the Short Strand flashpoint.

The 51-year-old from Dundonald, who puts his heart and soul into the club despite battling serious health issues, was more than worthy of our award which was presented to him by world boxing champion Carl Frampton at last year's glittering ceremony in the Culloden Hotel.

And as entries open for this year's Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers, Terry recalls how much it meant to him to be singled out as the winner of our sports category.

He says: "I was genuinely dumbstruck and even now nearly a year on I still can't believe it.

"I still have to pinch myself when I think about it and I do ask myself, 'Did that really happen?' It was such a fantastic night and one which will stay with me all of my life.

"The stories of the other people in the room were amazing and I have continued to follow the progress of some of the other winners. Also having Carl Frampton present my award was just the icing on the cake."

During his big moment on stage to accept his award, unsurprisingly it was his club which was uppermost in Terry's mind.

He gained the admiration of a packed Culloden when he made a direct appeal for help with funding to the First and deputy First Ministers who were among the special guests for the evening.

It was a spur of the moment request which appeared to have the desired impact as his application for a grant for an upgrade of the rundown former school where his club meets was granted.

Work to renovate the building started just last week, much to Terry's delight. He said: "Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness were there and I just thought this is my chance.

"We were having trouble getting the grant approved and it seemed to work because the grant came through a few months later and renovation work has just begun. The building was in a terrible state, riddled with damp with old windows and plaster peeling off the walls.

"The adults had to use the old primary school toilets so now it is going to make such a difference.

"We are getting new toilets and new windows and the whole place will be transformed into a modern day facility which will allow us to do so much more work for the community."

Thanks to another grant he succeeded in securing, he has launched his first dedicated all-female course.

While the club has always been open to women - the very reason he launched it in the first place - this new course will be the first specifically tailored to females and already 20 have signed up.

Married to 44-year-old Julie, it was because their daughter Sara (25) wanted to learn to box that Terry first started the club. As a teenager with a real interest in the sport Sara struggled to find somewhere to train because she was a girl.

Says Terry: "There weren't the same opportunities for females and a lot of people still think females shouldn't be boxing but the safeguards are there for them and so I just decided to train her myself.

"I started 11 years ago in a local community hall with a length of rope and four traffic cones for my ring and one punch bag and a speed ball.

"I put in for a grant early on from Sport NI and no one thought I would get it but I put in a good application and got a substantial grant.

"To this day the application is used as a lead on how to do it by others. I never advertised it, it just went by word of mouth and since the first night I opened we have had a waiting list."

The success of the club is all the more remarkable as Terry has put in all hours despite serious personal battles with his health.

He has suffered five heart attacks and struggles with ongoing depression but says the joy of seeing a child excel and grow in confidence is a reward which money cannot buy.

His health forced him to retire from his job as a building supervisor with the Education and Library Board some years ago, allowing him to devote all of his time to the club.

The club meets in the old Beechfield Primary School and part of the renovation will open up more of the building to allow Terry to develop more classes.

Currently the club caters for between 20 and 25 children aged between 5 and 13 years, another 20 to 30 in the 14-25 age group as well as adult exercise classes.

Terry says: "The biggest buzz I get out of it is seeing a child who is quiet and shy when they come in grow in confidence.

"People are surprised that most of the children who take up boxing are quiet and some may have been bullied at school and they take up boxing as a confidence builder.

"It is not all about building champions, it is about building people. If a child goes out of here feeling better than they did when they came in then that is my job done. Older people also love to just come and get fit and make friends."

His daughter did go on to excel and win Ulster and Irish Boxing titles when she was 15, but dropped out of the sport, while for her father it became a hobby he couldn't give up.

One of his protégés is east Belfast champ Fiona Nelson who joined the club to lose weight.

Within just 18 months Terry had trained her to championship level and she won her first all-Ireland title.

He says: "Fiona just wanted to get fit but straight away I recognised that she had something special and I told her to give me 12 months of hard work and she did and she won two titles."

As he urged others to get nominating for the 2017 Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards, Terry added: "When I got over the shock of winning I was absolutely delighted.

"It is an amazing event and the stories of some of the people there that night was just incredible.

"I get so much out of what I do. I have depression and some nights I have to force myself to go to the club and when I walk in the door and a child high fives me with a smile on their face my depression just lifts."

You can nominate via our online entry form or by emailing spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk.

Spirit of NI Award categories

Unsung Hero

Someone whose great deed or deeds have previously gone unnoticed, but who will have made a major contribution to your life or to your community.

Overcoming Adversity

Someone who has overcome huge personal challenges, whether it is dealing with illness or disability or overcoming problems.

Spirit of Youth

Someone under the age of 18 who should be recognised for their special achievements.

999 Hero

A member of the emergency services who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in their job.

Charity Champion

Someone who has worked tirelessly for a charity or as a fundraiser for many years.

Spirit of Health

A medical professional who has gone the extra mile to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients.

Spirit of Education

This award recognises a truly inspirational teacher who has helped children and young people to fulfil their potential.

Caring Spirit Award

A person, young or old, who has dedicated their time to caring for a friend or family member.

Spirit of Sport

Someone who has made an exceptional contribution to local sport over a number of years.

Overall Spirit of Northern Ireland Award

Someone who the judges feel best represents the Spirit of Northern Ireland by selflessly serving others and being an inspiration to us all.

Nominate your hero

  • There are 10 awards in total. You can nominate an unsung hero via our online form, or download the entry form which will also be available in Specsavers stores, or email your nomination to spiritofniawards@sundaylife.co.uk. Closing date for nominations is Friday May 5.
  • The Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers grand final will be at held at the Culloden Estate and Spa on Friday, June 16. All the finalists will be invited to the glittering awards ceremony, which will include entertainment, celebrity guests and will be shown on UTV on June 21.
  • Tickets for the gala awards ceremony cost £65, which includes dinner, table wine and entertainment from Boyzlife, can be purchased from JComms, Sylvan House, 232-240, Belmont Office Park, Belfast, BT4 2AW; by phone at 028 9076 0066, or e-mailing: mail@jprni.com

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