“Tough times don’t last, But tough people do.”
The story is extraordinary. The bravery is unrivalled. The hunger is growing.
Diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer aged just four, the odds have been stacked against Ryan Wheeler from day one. A knockout victory over his illness will forever remain as the top achievement on the ‘resume of life’, but now the undefeated Super Featherweight has a new Everest to conquer.
In an in depth talk with FightTalk.net, the 10-0-1 Somerset southpaw remembers good times and bad, whilst talking past, present and future about the ‘sweet science’.
Currently guided by the Bristolian boxing powerhouse, double act Chris and Jamie Sanigar, Wheeler enjoys the best training available as he looks to make the transition from budding prospect, to belt contender.
‘’I am currently part of the Bristol Boxing team managed by Chris & Jamie Sanigar. I train at the gym in Bristol alongside Lee Haskins, Ashley Lane, Lee Selby, Andrew Selby, and lots of other top-quality pros.’’
A mutually beneficial arrangement. Iron sharpens iron, and at 24 years old, Wheeler could find himself in much worse company as he aspires to equal the feats of his gym mates.
The talent of respective former and current world champions, Lee Haskins and Selby provides priceless experience, as ‘The Somerset Stallion’ looks to make his own mark on the lower weight classes.
‘’I’m sure all boxers will agree our camp is like a boxing family. We all work hard together and get on well. It’s great to have Lee Haskins & Lee Selby around to learn from and mix training up with them.’’
Behind every hardened boxer who enters the ring is a young man with their own story, their own secrets, and their own pain. Long before the birth of his boxing career, Ryan Wheeler was already in the 12th round of a fight of his own.
‘’I don’t remember to much about my battle with cancer as I was so young. But I can’t imagine the feelings my family must have went through. I only remember small bits like family visits and refusing to eat the hospital food.’’
Shades of Danny Jacobs sprung to mind as I familiarised myself with the Ryan Wheeler story. I dug deeper into the fascinating and equally emotional history of the young Super Featherweight, every sentence hitting harder than the last.
‘’My mum tells me it started when I was around 3 years old. I would always complain about pains in my neck and hips. I had several trips to the doctors, but I was turned away being told it was just growing pains. But one day we were out on a day trip, I fell over and struggled to stand back straight and complained about being in a lot of pain.”
”She rushed me straight back to the doctors and refused to leave until something was done. After being checked over by a different doctor I was rushed to Bath hospital. It was then my family were told I had a form of bone cancer which had eaten away the bone in my neck.’’
‘’ I went on to having chemotherapy and made a full recovery.’’
A young boy who almost had life taken away before it had a chance to begin. Wheeler’s words were dashed with humbled gratuity, and as the conversation progressed, it became apparent that the experiences of his childhood would motivate him for the rest of his life.
‘’I often think about how lucky I am to be here.’’
A story that would not look out of place on the desk of a Hollywood producer. But amidst the hysteria and drama that has seemingly followed the life of Ryan Wheeler, the selfless nature of a genuine young man shone through, as he described the important qualities of his life.
‘’I would like to think young kids will look up to me. I have come from a normal family in a small town. In Somerset nobody has opened doors for me. I work hard and chase my dreams. I believe anyone can achieve what they like if they are willing to put the hard work in and be patient.’’
Perhaps an enlightened outlook on life instilled from a young age. Perhaps the heart of a man who does not know how to be beaten. A special man who will always have a special place in his heart for the place that raised him, and ultimately, lead him into the life of pugilism.
‘’I started boxing After getting into a fight at school. I had moved away from Somerset for a few years to live with my dad in Leicester. People always use to make fun of me because of my accent.’’
‘’One day, things got out of hand and I got into a fight and I got absolutely battered. After the fight had broken up we were both sent to the headteacher. I asked the other kid how he was so good at fighting turns out he was a boxer.’’
Friendship can often hide in most peculiar places. The same could be said about boxing, as Wheeler recalled his first, painful encounter with the sport, and the unlikely events that followed.
‘’I remember going home from school that day asking my dad if I could go along to the boxing club, He was a little shocked as I was always the wimpy kid in the family but he said yes. After a telling off from the headteacher we then become good friends and I started to go along to Earl Shilton Boxing club with him.’’
From that day forward, the die had been cast and the journey had begun. 60 amateur bouts saw Wheeler win regional titles and in a pinnacle moment, reach the final of a National Championship.
15 years later, the passion has intensified, and the stakes have been raised. 2018 promises to be the ‘pivot’ year for the young prospect with title tilts on the horizon.
‘’People ask how far I think I can go in boxing. Personally, I believe in my ability to reach the top ranks, I am just going to take each fight as it comes and live for today. But my focus is to look back at the end of my boxing career being able to say I could not have tried any harder, grabbed every opportunity and most importantly finish boxing with good health.’’
The domestic scene at 130lbs is red hot. Martin Joseph Ward currently sits at the top of the pile as British champion with fellow unbeaten contender Zelfa Barrett picking up the English last month.
‘’I am currently Ranked 15th in the Super Featherweight division. Looking ahead of myself there some very tough opponents. I respect every one of them. We are all set out chasing our dreams and climbing the ranks.’’
An interesting landscape which throws up some interesting ties. Wheeler can look forward to one last outing before Christmas, a hometown fight on 1st December to sign off 2017.
The future looks bright for the ‘Somerset Stallion’. A rangey southpaw with the heart of a lion is a combination that would give even the most seasoned professional a headache.
In a remarkable story which I have been honoured to cover, Ryan Wheeler can truly say that he has defied the odds since day one, and will continue to do so long into his boxing career and beyond.
Follow Ryan’s journey on Twitter: @OneRyanWheeler
By Tom Humber