John’s story of rehabilitation from crime through the power of sport is an immensely powerful example of everything the Alliance is striving to achieve.
A sport-based intervention was the trigger for John to change from a prolific armed robber into an Ironman athlete. He knows, as we do, how different society could be if everyone was given the same opportunity to achieve positive change through sport. We’re delighted to have his support in achieving that vision.
After receiving two life sentences in 2007, John was deemed such a threat to the public that he was sent to Belmarsh high security unit, locked up for 23 hours a day just a few cells along
from Islamic fundamentalist Abu Hamza and the London bombers.
After transferring to a conventional jail, he discovered a love of the gym, in particular the rowing machine. At HMP Lowdham Grange, he received a sporting intervention that was to change the course of his life.
Darren Davis, the prison’s award-winning sports and leisure tutor, noticed John was “pulling some serious numbers” on the rowing machine. He supported and mentored him, even coming in on his days off to help him train. Soon, John broke the British record for rowing the marathon and the world record for distance rowed in 24 hours. He and Darren remain friends to this day.
Whilst on day release, John worked in a high-street gym, and once he was freed permanently in 2012 he joined London Rowing Club, before starting to train seriously as a triathlete. As a boy, he had been led into a life of crime by his stepfather, but now, for the first time in his life, he was surrounded by entirely different male role models.
“Sport puts you in a positive environment,” he says. “Physical activity breeds a positive mindset, far removed from that of criminals and drug addicts. My friendship group changed overnight. The guidance, discipline and support was incredible.”
He is now sponsored by Nike, trains up to 35 hours a week and competes across Europe, as well as appearing at schools, secure establishments and events, inspiring others with his story of redemption through sport.
As we build our global evidence base to prove the effectiveness of sport as a vehicle for prevention and rehabilitation, John will be on hand not just as a living, breathing example of sport’s power, but to provide that crucial perspective of a service user.
“Listening to those who’ve been through it is so important,” he states. “I know that putting the right person and the right programme in an environment can literally make or break people.”
James Mapstone, Chair and Co-Founder of the Alliance, commented: “We are honoured to have John on board. In my time as Physical Education Manager at HMP YOI Ashfield, I was privileged to witness the effect sport had on many of the offenders I worked with, although none quite went on to the same athletic heights as he has! His story is an inspiration and he embodies the Alliance’s ethos.”
John adds: “My story represents that anything is possible for anyone. Even the most sceptical person cannot disprove what effect the power of sport has had on me.
“I am delighted to be backing the Alliance of Sport; our philosophies and beliefs are exactly aligned. If I can change my life through sport – and I was deemed one of the most dangerous prisoners in the country – why can’t the other 90,000 prisoners, or anyone else, do it too?”
Read more about John McAvoy on his website: therealmcavoy.com