The Sudanese refugees boxing their way to the top
Brothers Walid and Ahmed fled Sudan in 2011 to join their father in Portsmouth. They had never heard of boxing, but now it’s helping them build new lives and dreams in the UK
The whoosh of the skipping ropes fills the air as 19-year-old Walid and his 22-year-old brother Ahmed warm up for their training session in the ring. It’s unbelievable that just a few years ago they’d never even heard of boxing - and now they are on their way to championship level.
In 2011 the brothers fled Sudan, along with their mother and sisters, to join their father Adenas who had resettled in Portsmouth. Adenas was able to bring his family to safety in the UK through a refugee family reunion visa, after the British Red Cross helped him to fill out the forms and put in the application.
“When my family arrived in the UK I was very, very happy. My family was also very happy too. They were very excited. It had been nearly four years since I had seen them.”
Eager that his family integrate quickly into life in the city, he took them to a local boxing gym after having met the head coach, Quentin ‘Q’ Shillingford at a Sudanese community event.
For Walid and Ahmed, boxing proved to be an instant hit. They loved it! Shy, scrawny teenagers when they first set foot in the gym, Walid looks back at that time as ‘starting from zero’.
“We knew nothing about boxing. We started boxing with Q and he started training us. We never had a friend as well. Then we started just coming training, coming training, in like a year after we started getting good. And then everyone started becoming friendly, nice to us.”
Q remembers teething problems from that time as the brothers didn’t speak much English and they were very shy and unsure of themselves. Fast forward a few years and the confidence, drive and passion in the brothers is clear.
“The boys have gone on now to become national-level boxers, winning England title belts and they’re now local heroes in the city of Portsmouth,” Q said.
Having arrived not knowing anyone apart from their father, everyone now knows them.
“They’re like a household name," Q said. “And considering what they’ve been through and where they come from, we’re all very, very proud of them at Heart of Portsmouth boxing academy.”
The brothers’ focus is very much on becoming world champions and this hunger to succeed is fuelled by their past. Looking back to their childhood, Ahmed acknowledges that they were young when they left Sudan so they don’t really remember much except for knowing they were in a bad situation.
And they know others still live in that situation now.
THE BOYS HAVE GONE ON NOW TO BECOME NATIONAL LEVEL BOXERS, WINNING ENGLAND TITLE BELTS AND THEY'RE NOW LOCAL HEROES IN THE CITY OF PORTSMOUTH.QUENTIN 'Q' SHILLINGFORD, THE BROTHERS' BOXING COACH
"We are trying to be the best not just for ourselves. For family and for back home. We don't have boxers in our country. We don't even have one hero boxer. We're trying to be number one boxers and go back home to show our commitment and to celebrate with them and make the younger generation be interested in this sport as well."
Dad Adenas beams with pride when talking about his sons and their boxing success, however the most important thing for him is that his family are happy in their new home.
“Our family is very happy and also the Sudanese community is very happy. And all the English here are very friendly. I’m very happy for the boys because they are working so hard for Portsmouth, I think. Everyone is very happy for the boys.”
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