Meet the Carlisle boxing coach who’s helping ex-soldiers battling PTSD

Twenty-seven grass-roots sport coaches were this week recognised as ‘Heroes’ at the UK Coaching Awards.

The charitable organisation wanted to acknowledge the efforts of coaches who persevered and improvised to deliver online training and keep people connected during the Covid-19 pandemic. A list of 75 coaches from 65 places across the UK, and representing nearly 40 sports, were shortlisted for the public vote, before the Coaching Heroes were announced. The 27 winners received their award from Princess Anne yesterday at a ceremony in Leeds.

One of those heroes is Jimmy Brennan, an ex-SAS soldier turned boxing coach from Carlisle, recognised for his contribution to supporting mental health through physical fitness.

Brennan, who joined the army at 17 and spent 10 years in the Irish Guards before an 18-year career in the SAS, co-founded PTSD for PTSD — Physical Training Supports Disorders for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Jimmy Brennan receives his award from Princess Anne this week for his work with ex-soldiers

‘Me and my pal Tommy Roach who was also in the Irish Guards jumped on the movement of the 22 press-up challenge for 22 days to raise awareness for PTSD,’ said Brennan. ‘Once we got a good number of people in our group, we decided to keep going after the 22 days. Obviously, we knew a lot of people who were suffering from PTSD and also plenty of those who we didn’t know at the time who were struggling. We continued posting workouts every day during the lockdown and we have a great following.’

The group, which has more than 900 members, primarily supports ex-servicemen and women with mental health issues and sets monthly physical challenges for participants to complete.

‘The group has helped a lot of people and made a real difference to their lives,’ added Brennan.

‘We have received lots of private messages thanking us for the work we are doing and it’s helped people through these really difficult times.’

One of the participants praised Brennan for ‘saving his life’ after the scheme helped alleviate his mental health struggles.

‘It’s not great to hear about it because the lad was in a bad state,’ said Brennan. ‘Obviously, there is a dark side to the story but it’s great he has seen the light and changed his life around and if I had a small part to play in that it’s absolutely great.’

The initiative doesn’t only target ex-service people, with family members including kids and grandparents also keen to engage in Brennan’s activities.

‘It’s a really diverse audience,’ he added. ‘We’ve got kids and grandparents involved, too, so it’s massive. It’s not just ex-soldiers, it’s all walks of life. We generated a lot more interest during the lockdowns. It has affected a lot of people mentally and just a little release, a bit of physical activity, releases endorphins and improves your wellbeing.’

Jimmy - here at his boxing gym in Carlisle - has helped change lives

Jimmy – here at his boxing gym in Carlisle – has helped change lives

Alongside the daily workouts, Brennan also runs a mental health initiative in a boxing club every Wednesday and Saturday, although he believes more can be done to tackle PSTD. ‘There is a lot more help available to those suffering now than a few years ago when I first started the group,’ he said. ‘But I hear so many stories of individuals who have slipped through the net — whether they are living on the streets or getting into drink and drugs. It’s better than it was but there is a long way to go.’

And as he received his UK Coaching award, Brennan was delighted to have been recognised for his efforts. ‘It was just the nomination that threw me really,’ he said. ‘It’s just great to be recognised for what I do. To actually win the award was absolutely fantastic. I will be doing this until I can’t do it any longer. It’s just part of my life now.’   

UK Coaching CEO Mark Gannon said: ‘Coaching is about people and great coaching is people-focused, so we feared the worst for the nation’s coaching workforce, and the people they support, when the restrictions were implemented. Yet coaches ripped up the rule book and used innovation, technology and hard graft to connect with their participants virtually, delivering great coaching experiences. We’re incredibly proud.’

Martin Johnson: Learning CPR should be on the national curriculum

By Lewis Steele 

Former England rugby captain Martin Johnson is calling for CPR training to become mandatory and widespread in the UK to combat sudden cardiac arrests.

The World Cup winner is part of the Joe Humphries Memorial Trust, which was set up by the father of a 14-year-old boy who died from a sudden cardiac arrest while out running.

‘Joe was the son of a friend of mine,’ Johnson tells Sportsmail. ‘He went out for a jog aged 14 and never came home. He had a sudden cardiac arrest. It was completely out of the blue, he had no symptoms.

‘A guy did CPR on him and called the ambulance but it was all too late.

‘Once you know it can happen to a perfectly fit person — Joe, Christian Eriksen, Fabrice Muamba — you realise how it can happen to anyone. You can be technically dead in the time it takes to click your fingers.’

Former England captain Martin Johnson (right) with his former coach Sir Clive Woodward

Former England captain Martin Johnson (right) with his former coach Sir Clive Woodward

So Johnson and the trust are calling for more people to be trained in how to perform CPR and use defibrillators. Each week, 12 people under the age of 35 in the UK die of sudden cardiac arrest — with no existing problems. If action is taken within the first minute, chances of survival are tripled.

‘You have to be prepared to do all you can when that happens,’ he adds. ‘We’ve all stood on enough pitches to know that sometimes you’re a long way from anywhere, it can take a while to get an ambulance. But seconds are vital.

‘Once you know that as a parent, you start to think about what you might do in that situation. Everyone knows someone who has died with a heart problem. The alternative — if you don’t know what to do — is thinking, ‘Well, I should have learned CPR.’

‘It’s not a miracle that Christian Eriksen was saved (when he had a cardiac arrest playing for Denmark at Euro 2020).

‘I was disappointed people called it that. It was the fact that people there were prepared and ready for it. It was not a freak occurrence.

‘In Seattle in the States, the chances of survival are considerably better because all the kids have learned CPR. Hopefully the national curriculum in the UK follows suit.

‘Every pub and building has a fire extinguisher. There’s far more people who die of cardiac arrests than in fires. Defibrillators are cheap and easy to use. Money is always tight with sports clubs at grassroots level but it’s so worth it to have a defibrillator.

‘If it wasn’t for this charity, I would’ve put off learning this stuff for ever. I’ve been in a situation where someone has gone down and I was so grateful I was trained.

‘It’s not difficult or long to learn.’   

UK Coaching offers a free course to provide the knowledge to respond quickly to a sudden cardiac arrest. The course is available at: ukcoaching.org/sca 

Group to keep pregnant women fit and healthy

By Harry Garside 

Health and fitness coach Juanita Steel was hailed as one of the 27 ‘Coaching Heroes’ at an awards ceremony this week for her contribution to women’s health.

Steel, who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for more than 20 years, recently collaborated with Merseyside Sports and Active Cheshire to plug a significant gap in maternity services caused by the pandemic, encouraging pregnant women to remain active.

When face-to-face sessions were halted, Steel provided free-to-access sessions via Facebook Live and YouTube, as well as creating a group for women to stay connected online outside of classes.

Juanita Steel has been hailed as a 'Coaching Hero' for her work with pregnant women

Juanita Steel has been hailed as a ‘Coaching Hero’ for her work with pregnant women

‘I was approached by Merseyside Sport as we headed into the first lockdown and we soon started a partnership called BeFit4Baby which I was the face of,’ Steel tells Sportsmail.

‘I was doing classes online for women who were isolating as they were pregnant or had just given birth. The classes ranged from fitness activities to nutrition talks and conversations about how they were feeling.

‘I always start my groups off where every woman is in it together, so we all feel empowered. My goal is to try and build a real community within my groups and I am proud to have done so.’

Although maternity services have restarted following the pandemic, Steel is eager to carry on providing help for pregnant women.

‘I will definitely continue to support these women. There is always going to be pregnant women and a need for the service.

‘It’s also a sense of belonging to something. When a woman gets pregnant it’s daunting.

‘The refreshing thing about what I do is to see the relationships develop between them. It’s incredible. It’s not just about fitness, it’s about the community that it creates.’

Steel received her award at the UK Coaching Awards and said she was stunned by the recognition. ‘I was shocked (to win the accolade). I was so blown away that I had been nominated because this is my job. It’s what I love to do and where my passion lies, so to be recognised is so rewarding,’ adds Steel.

‘You don’t realise the good that you do within the community because it’s just something you do. You don’t do it for recognition. You do it because you want to help people and to ensure your community is at its best.’

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