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Ex-convict imparts wisdom to LYR rowers

LYR’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) programme uses rowing as an outlet for frustration and aggression, while combining valuable life skill education such as teamwork, communication, perseverance and patience.

Students that are integrated in Pupil Referral Unit education have been excluded from mainstream schooling for various reasons. Often they are recognised as having susceptibility towards criminal activity.

On 11th July 2017, John McAvoy came to talk to 15 students from New Regents College who are enrolled in the rowing programme, about his success as a rower, an Ironman and a Nike sponsored athlete.

John’s story is not like most athletes. He grew up determined to have money, no matter what. His role models were all career criminals with lots of money. To John, money brought respect and power.

Despite not completing any coursework, his GCSE grades were ok. When he received them, a teacher that he hated (who he now recognises had his best interests at heart) asked what he would do next. He lied and said he’d go to college, walked away and after finishing school at 16; he ripped up his GCSE results and set his sights on becoming a successful criminal instead.

Our PRU students were interested in exactly just how much money he had collected through crime.

John’s response: 'If I had worked in a McDonald's drive through for every day I spent in prison, I’d have had more money and been a free man. You know how much money you get to spend in prison? £12 a week, even if you’re a millionaire. Money’s no use to you in prison.'

Of all the things they learned during the session that seemed to be the sentence that shocked the students most heavily.

John’s criminal activity caught up with him and he was sentenced to 10 years for conspiracy to commit armed robbery. He was put in a high security prison, spending hour after hour, confined to his cell.

It was this confinement that forced him to take up fitness as ‘something to do to break up the monotony.’ Before this, he said he’d never been typically sporty.

His cell specific fitness regime started to consume him, doing thousands of press-ups and sit-ups in a day. There was no longer a desire to be the richest, most successful criminal. Suddenly, he had another outlet within which to channel his energy.

'I took everything that had been bad and channelled it into something positive,' said John.

When he was moved into a lower security prison due to good behaviour, he immediately found the gym, where he had access to rowing machines for the first time.

One of the prison officers had some rowing experience, and was taking note of his scores. The times were fast. The goal took another turn. He didn’t just want to be the fittest man in prison; he wanted to be the fastest rower in the world.

He broke indoor rowing records for the longest ever continual row, the fastest 10,000m row, the fastest 100,000m row, the furthest distance rowed in 30mins. The list goes on. So, it was always his intention upon release to join a rowing club and see how far he could take the sport.

He chose London Rowing Club, and instead of being met by elitism and distrust like he had expected, he was amazed at the support and friendship he found there.

John now has his sights set on world domination in long distance triathlon, a competition more commonly known as Ironman.

The young people within LYR’s, PRU programme were in awe of John. And, as the summer holidays are quickly approaching, he encouraged them to use their free time productively.

‘Remember, the people you spend the most time with have the most influence on you,’ he said.

So with this in mind, our PRU students all received an invitation to free summer rowing sessions.

Sign-up for next year’s programme is beginning thanks to the Worshipful Company of Vintners, who have approved £15,000 of funding for LYR to continue work with PRU students.

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