'It's a first' - Black Country wheelchair user qualifies as boxing official
A sports fan is packing a punch after becoming the first wheelchair user in the country to qualify as a boxing judge.
Ring coach Wendy Hurst, 38, of Gleneagles Drive, Oldbury, said she is delighted to be among 67 Grade C judges or timekeepers to be welcomed by the sport national body England Boxing, which set up a recruitment campaign to attract fresh blood.
As a result, 378 new officials have taken online exams while another 139 have completed their probation to qualify and receive their certificate to act as competition referees, supervisors and judges.
Wendy said: "I'm really excited. I am a wheelchair user and have recently qualified as a judge with England Boxing - the first known 'wheelie' to do so. I don't let being a wheelchair user stop me from doing things. I like to just go for things.
"England Boxing have been making efforts to get more people to be judges and referees as a lot of people had given it up. It wasn't until afterwards that I realised that I was the first disabled person to do it.
"I did some boxing training of my own for a year then I became a coach. Then lockdown hit. We resumed operations at my club about a year ago. There's a lot more things now to encourage disabled people to stay in sport, but a lot of things are localised and you have to be in the right place.
"When I started there weren't any facilities and if you wanted to participate you had to travel miles. For me it's about going to a place, realising they're not going to have the facilities, but making yourself invaluable so that others at the club will make changes to accommodate.
"My club, Warley Amateur Boxing Club, encouraged me to be become a qualifying judge. The committee got grants to install accessible toilet and ramps, it's not perfect, but they tried.
"As I'm the first wheelchair judge, hopefully Boxing England will say 'OK if we can do it for one person, we can do it more people if we have the right things in place'. Hopefully next season I will be become an active judge."
England Boxing said it has created a new officials' training pathway in partnership with regional clubs and gyms.
Mike Hemming, from its technical, roles and officials sub-committee, said: “There’s been a huge amount of work gone into reforming our officials’ development programme and I am really pleased with where we are today.
“We now have a consistent, streamlined and professional approach that we can all be proud of, and this can only be good news for every member of England Boxing.”
The late Shropshire cricket umpire John McIntear, who died in August last year, used a motorised wheelchair to help him continue in the sport he loved.