LYR’s new Programmes Coach, Ikem Ndigwekings, grew up in Peckham, South London, in a Nigerian household and from a very young age he remembers sports being more than just a game for his family.  

Case in point, theirs has always been a family split by loyalties to different football clubs – Ikem an ardent Chelsea fan with two Arsenal fanatics for brothers and a Liverpool-supporting Mum.  

“I know it sounds mad” says Ikem, “But for some reason we all support different teams and let’s just say if one of our teams are playing against each other it can get pretty loud and very competitive in our house. It’s just been like that for as long as I can remember - we're all sports mad”  

Suffice to say during the football season, weekends have always been a tense, and often very loud, affair in the Ndigwekings household, but the power of sport was never more evident for Ikem than following the death of his father - almost 20 years ago. Seeing his family beset by the tragedy, it was in this period of turbulence, following their loss, that he then saw the power that sport could have as a vehicle for him to successfully forge his own path in life.  

He recognised that the passion for sports that he’d inherited would be able to help him channel his energies into helping other young people who had experienced struggles in their childhood and support them in forging their path just like he did.    

“Sports saved my life. I lost my Dad when I was 7, and I wasn’t the worst kid but I definitely wasn’t the greatest. When I started to see my brothers struggle and act out, I started to follow in their path before realising this wasn’t the path in life I wanted to take” 

Following their father’s passing Ikem saw his older brother struggling at school and falling foul of authorities. Then he too began to see himself carve out a similar path to his brother, which would ultimately lead to Ikem attending an Alternative Provision, a time in his life he’ll credit with helping turn his life around.  

Since then he’s been on a mission to help as many AP kids as possible and show them anything is possible – and that no one’s forgotten about them.    

“Alternative Provision is the last line of defence for education, trying to give kids an education who’ve been kicked out of mainstream education.” Ikem explains.  

“I know first-hand from attending Alternative Provision schools, I know the opportunities I lacked when I was younger and that the feeling of being left behind and excluded. For me it’s all about communicating to the kids that I went to an AP, and look how I turned out. If I can do it, anyone can” 

Ikem arrived at LYR a few months ago and while he has hit the ground running he admits to being a little hesitant about joining as he had never actually rowed before. Not one to shy away from a new challenge Ikem persisted with his application, especially as Programme Director reminded him that the most important skill for this role was being able to communicate with the young people.

           Ikem's enjoying our newly implemented Coach Development scheme - "It's great to know your employers are so invested helping improve you not                   only as a coach but as a well rounded professional"   

Ikem has continued to draw on his own experiences attending Alternative Provision schools and his carefully honed skills in connecting with young people who perhaps haven’t had the easiest life. Despite initial worries about not being able to row, Ikem understood immediately that his and LYR’s visions were aligned.  

He saw that LYR aren’t just focused on bringing rowing to young people who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to get out on the water, but mainly in getting them active, somewhere they can feel included and be part of a collective. 

Mentoring AP kids is now my passion, and before I arrived at LYR I’d been working in an Alternative Provisions school for the last two and a half years, and I really wanted to continue to work with and nuture kids who feel like they’ve been left behind by the education system and given up on.

You’ll be surprised to hear that sports very much precludes Ikem in his free time too. Predominately as a goalkeeper for his local Sunday league football team and, most notably, as a boxer. Competing at an amateur level, Ikem has so far won 8 out of 8 fights which typically in front of audiences of a couple of hundred people. Ikem also runs a social media persona alongside his amateur boxing career with the aim of spreading the word of reducing crime rates for youth in London. Nearing the end of the year, Ikem will be facing his 9th opponent; all of us at LYR and his mentees will be cheering him on!