Fighting For Better Mental Health: Inside The Mind Of James Wallace
WOW HYDRATE has been a proud sponsor of Team JW Training for the last two years.
Based in Beckenham, South-East London, the organisation works with adults and youths in the local area providing boxing coaching and training with a strong focus on tackling mental health issues such as intrusive thoughts, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and addiction.
The man behind it, 44-year-old James Wallace, has now launched Beckenham’s first Amateur Boxing Club. James’s passion and hard work has seen his training business grow substantially with clients ranging from the latest in boxing talent, to professional sports people and social media influencers. His clients love him for the results they see, but it’s James’s select group of youngsters- many from troubled backgrounds, that drive him in his role as a personal trainer and qualified professional boxing coach. He’s excited to see Beckenham ABC go from strength to strength with his continued passion for better mental health embedded into the club.
From crime & addiction to fatherhood & boxing
Following his own difficult childhood, James struggled through adolescence and found himself resorting to drugs and violence driven by fear and feelings of vulnerability. Fighting became a defence mechanism for James, who had grown up in an unstable environment in Lewisham and Bromley- areas that had an active gang culture at the time. It’s no surprise that James failed to settle into education and after several expulsions, he left school and found himself being recruited into a life of crime. He expresses deep regrets about his life choices at the time, which led him into a spiral of drug addiction, run-ins with the law, absconding overseas, depression and even time in prison.
Years later though, his story has transformed from one of hopelessness and shame to one of pride. Thanks to the birth of his son, discovering boxing and a deep wish to protect his son’s future, he was driven to overcome his addictions, but he says it was a constant battle to stay clean in between periods of relapse.
‘I had a son and thought I needed to sort myself out. I started getting into boxing too. I wasn’t emotionally there for my son, as I was in active addiction, but with so much love for my child, I did my best at the time and believed I was doing well. If I had a fight, I was motivated to get clean for eight weeks, but I would go downhill after.’
When his brother provided James with an opportunity to attend an inpatient rehabilitation programme, he took it. It was a painful experience, but after 29 days in rehab, James came out with the resolve to do everything he could to stay clean for the sake of his son. ‘Without my son, I wouldn’t have gotten through it, I wouldn’t be here today.’
The road to recovery
James worked hard on recovery. He found a sponsor, enrolled in college and gained qualifications in counselling, mentoring and welfare. He wanted to specialise in working with troubled children alongside those suffering with addiction. He also achieved his amateur boxing license and his pro boxing license with the British Boxing Board of Control. This was a hugely significant moment for James. He started making a name for himself as a personal trainer, and at a crucial point, he was offered a lifeline when the rehabilitation facility offered him some work in the field. James’s drive, emerging reputation and success as a trainer grew from there, and five years ago he opened Team JW Training in Beckenham. He recalls the feeling of disbelief when his bank allowed him to open a business account- he had expected to be turned away due to his record. Reflecting on it all, he says, ‘I believe God opened doors for me that I felt would never be possible.’
Through his business, he has been able to offer a safe place to vulnerable young people where they can talk, train and overcome their own issues. With his counselling background and personal experience of mental health issues, James recognises that psychological problems can present in many forms.
‘Addiction comes under a massive banner– it can be addiction to drugs, sex, gambling- even training. In the kids I work with, some suffer from a lack of confidence, ADHD, anger, trauma, maybe they’ve been labelled as ‘naughty’. But therapy is a two-way thing sometimes. I listen to my clients; they listen to me.’
‘I’m good at connecting with kids, most good fighters have issues and insecurities or mental health problems that they’re dealing with,’ explains James. ‘Going to the gym is one way they survive, but they do need other help. I’m open about my recovery and it helps. I admit my honest truth- that I’ve suffered, that I’ve cried. I have insecurities.’ He points out, ‘The toughest people are the ones suffering the most, there’s a saying, pride will kill you. They might be a great fighter but they’re losing the battle inside.’
Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health
Three months ago, with his partner Danny Beaver and Chris Okoh, ex-Cruiserweight Commonwealth Champion and boxing coach, James was able to open Beckenham Amateur Boxing Club. The trio have invested their time and money into the club and have received support and sponsorship from the sports drink brand, WOW HYDRATE. James states that when he opened the club, his main aim was to help get more children off the streets and into the gym.
As a recovered addict and father, he says, ‘I struggle now with not helping others as I know how painful life can be. I have families and so many kids for training from age five upwards.’ He explains that despite a long waiting list of potential clients, he tries to be selective about who he takes on, making sure that he’s able to work with small groups to give individuals the time and support they need to reach their potential.
James strongly believes that being relatable is what has helped him to connect with his clients. ‘Before you can give advice, you need trust and respect. I’ve been through it. No kid wants to open up to someone who has learned from a textbook, I can talk to them meaningfully because I’ve been through it. By understanding people, we can make a change.’
Despite his successes over the last few years, James is honest about the fact he still has his personal battles with his own demons. ‘I work seven days a week and I do still suffer good times and bad. I’ve had a few slips that have been very painful, but I will always get back up.’
Follow Team JW Training to see more from James and his team in the gym and at Beckenham ABC, which has just completed its first half a season undefeated.