Inspirational Black Country 'Hometown Heroes' announced ahead of Commonwealth Games

Four inspirational sports-people from across the Black Country have been celebrated ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Dave Heeley OBE has been named a ‘hometown hero’
Dave Heeley OBE has been named a ‘hometown hero’

Runner and charity fundraiser Dave Heeley OBE, from West Bromwich, has been named along with three others as "Hometown Heroes" by chiefs.

The group – including Ranjit Singh, Haseebah Abdullah and Kevin Dillon – were named due them going "above and beyond" to promote their sport.

Mr Heeley – known better as Blind Dave – became the first blind man to run seven marathons on seven continents in just seven days back in 2008.

He has raised vital funds for charity and has kept going through a range of gruelling charity challenges, inspiring hundreds if not thousands of people.

Meanwhile Haseebah Abdullah, who coaches in Smethwick, is England's first hijab-wearing boxaching coach – and has been called an "incredible" ambassador for the sport.

She has been "key" to promoting and developing female participation at Windmill Boxing Gym in Smethwick and has changed the dress code, allowing women to wear a headscarf and full-length clothing.

She said: "It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected as a Hometown Hero. My aim has always been to provide a service, a home, a safe haven and a platform for equality in my sport and community.

"I’ve fought really hard to earn my place as a boxing coach, challenging stereotypes and overcoming many barriers. Receiving this recognition proves to me that we should always be the change we wish to see! As a coach I will continue to dedicate my time to create positive noise, break down barriers, accommodate different needs and be a driving force for equality and participation."

Kevin Dillon, who is the head coach at family-run Lions Amateur Boxing Club in Brierley Hill, contracted viral meningitis which left him visually-impaired from a young age.

And despite not being able to compete in boxing, he channelled his efforts into coaching instead – having aimed to get the best out of hundreds of boxers in his 19 years coaching.

He also launched a podcast in 2019 – called Black Country Blokes – which covers topics such as mental health, physical health, fitness, work, family and life in general, aiming to remove the stigma around taboo subjects.

Ranjit Singh is the head coach of Wolverhampton Wresting Club, based at the Guru Nanak Satsang Gurdwara, and he welcomes wrestlers from all levels, ages, genders, nationalities and religions through its doors.

During the first lockdown, Ranjit transformed the club into a food bank and distribution service and arranged 1,500 pieces of PPE to be manufactured and distributed to day care centres across the country and made bespoke equipment for key workers. Since then, he has continued to offer the service and rallies together volunteers who serve food to around 200 members of the community on a daily basis – including vulnerable and homeless people.

To celebrate their inclusion, each "Hometown Hero" will be profiled on the Commonwealth Games' website and social media channels over the coming weeks – and will each receive a special glass award to mark their achievement – with a total of 14 being chosen frm across the West Midlands.

Ian Reid, CEO of Birmingham 2022, said: "I’m in awe of our 14 Hometown Heroes. Their generosity to their club, whether that’s giving up their time or just being a listening ear, is inspiring. Birmingham 2022 promises to be the Games for Everyone, and whilst it’ll be an event that brings together the best athletes in the world, we are also aiming to inspire the next generation. Shining the spotlight on these devoted individuals will no doubt encourage participation in sport and physical activity across the West Midlands.”

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